Designing for Sociability

I was struck quite forcibly by G. Smith when she said that the fifth imperative was to design for sociability.  She follows this up by saying,

“When IT systems fail to support the social aspect of work and leisure, when they dehumanize, and de-civilize our relationship with each, they impoverish the rich social web in which we livea nd opperate, essential for both well-being and efficiency.”

When you think of the first few generations of “office” programs for PCs (this was not the case for mainframe/client structure though, but these didn’t have the much in the way of office software) they were designed for, almost without exception, just a single user.  After the advent of the BBS and later the accessibility of the internet and email these programs continued, and still continue to treat the user as if she were the practically the only person in the universe.   This is a great example of how this medium is still incredibly immature.  When we work we usually work in groups, teams, and often nested within a hierarchy.  Our applications are single user centric, and so we must email copies of things around, try to track changes, and control versions.  It’s maddening, and I’m sure we’ve all run into these kinds of issues.  Yes we have started to address this with some different add-ons, such as Sharepoint and other kinds of examples, but these are add-ons, and often expensive ones at that.

The problem is that we took another medium, the physical office with it’s typewriters, desktops (you know the horizontal surface, talk about a word that has been co-opted), and other 10-key calculators and directly translated it into the digital, completely forgetting that PEOPLE work in offices.  People who work together.  It is essentially a radio show being performed on TV, ridiculous, but a necessary first step.

Yes we must design with a connected, social world in mind.  This CANNOT be an add-on, an extra service, something that you try to include initially that is buggy that you work out in the first few patches (if the user is lucky).

If we talk about efficiency in the work place like Smith does at the end of that quote, then we can think about how much time we waste on these kinds of issues because M$ Office, and not even Apples new iWork has really addressed these issues well.  Google Docs is a small baby step in the right direction, but not exactly revolutionary.

Yes we are social animals, and we’ve ignored that for way too long.

A few caveats on this issue.  I don’t blame the initial designers for the way this is too much.  I mean most PCs were stand alone machines with cool tape drives, 5.25 inch disks and later if you were lucky you had a 2 MB hard drive.  (I laughed so hard the day I threw out our old IBM clone with dual 5.25 drives and that 2MB hard drive that cost us something like $750 back in the day).  The problem is we’re stuck in this kind of thinking 25 years later.

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