Stupid sexy Flanders

So here’s a really great interview with me…for those of you who read Flemish Nederlands. The interviewer, Karsten Lemmens, initially struck me as being a trifle on the young side, but I found his questions to be totally on-point.

A minor point of clarification. It seems like Karsten’s otherwise been exactingly scrupulous about translating my comments, but the wretched machine-generated version I have access to suggests, incorrectly, that I described various Philips products as “terrible.” (Later, I appear to describe Apple thusly: “They do terrible things.”) While it is certainly true that I regard Philips’ Ambilight offering as a splendid example of an essentially useless, technology-driven non-feature, and said so in the interview, I don’t believe I described either Philips or Apple that way, especially as compared to their competitors. Whatever word I used, it’s here being rendered as geweldige, which I sure hope has a colloquial meaning other than “terrible.” My Flemish-speaking readers will let me know. : . )

At any rate, enjoy.

6 responses to “Stupid sexy Flanders”

  1. David Sleight says :

    Apologies for an essentially off-topic comment, but I nominate this for best entry title ever. Instantly thought, “Nothing at all… nothing at all…”

  2. Kars says :

    Before I dive in and read the whole article let me just say one thing: The language is called Dutch (or Nederlands). Flemish is the ‘flavor’ of Dutch spoken in the north part of Belgium. But myself being a Dutchman (that means I’m from the Netherlands) can understand it perfectly.

    “Geweldig” loosely translates as “great” or even “awesome” if you like. When used on its own it has a positive meaning, but you can use it in conjunction with other words to reinforce any judgement. “Geweldig slecht” would mean awesomely bad, for instance.

  3. Kars says :

    Hope I did not come across as too much of a nitpicker in my previous comment. Being away from home for extended periods and not being immersed in my mother tongue might have something to do with it. ;-)

    Have just read the article and must say it was an enjoyable read. The Belgians — excuse me, Flemish — have a way with words. Their Dutch is much more florid as well as polite. It does your words justice I guess.

    My favorite part is the editorial comment explaining what Starbucks is!

    Some thoughts: Can your advocation of deep ethnography be reconciled in some way with the agile, “build and put it out there” school of thought prevalent on the web at the moment? And: Are there really no good examples of open source products that have truly great user experiences?

  4. AG says :

    Kars, thanks so much for your clarification. You’ll have to forgive me: I’m only American.

    I got that sense, too, BTW: that whether it’s a peculiarity of national style, or his individual chops, the piece recognizably reads with my voice. I’m well pleased on that count.

    As to your questions…

    I myself believe in “daring to be suboptimal” – that is, in releasing something you understand to be subject to improvement – given two preconditions: first, that you are fully conscious of and willing to take accountability for the imperfections, and second, you do not merely intend to but are prepared to commit resources to actually iterating the design in the light of real-world experience with it.

    If you are prepared to do nightly builds, to refine relentlessly, then as far as I’m concerned the ethnography is something that can happen in real time. It doesn’t need to be a preparatory phase. But it cannot be neglected, and its findings must inflect each successive build.

    As for open-source UI, the answer is “it depends.” If we’re merely talking about fitness-for-purpose and for a given audience, I suspect most FLOSS UIs are adequate. My issue is that virtually none of them remotely approach consumer-grade, or even incorporate current best practices. The closest ones I can think of are, of course, Firefox and Thunderbird, and even those fall significantly short of the polish I expect.

    The objection here is, invariably, that with skins and plug-ins you can massage these UIs to within a hair of anything Apple or TiVo or tomtom might offer you – and will certainly improve on offerings like, say, the BMW iDrive, or Sony’s camera UIs.

    This is true. But it betrays a critical misunderstanding of just how large, diverse and, well, ordinary the audiences for these products are, what percentage of them remain with the default UI settings through their entire lifetime with the product, how few people in fact understand that the default setting is optional, and so on.

    Those of us “in the industry,” or anywhere close to it, are literally all but incapable of imagining how frustrating these things are for the ordinary user. I’ve seen it in user tests times beyond number, how a piece of functionality a designer or an engineer insisted was “obvious” and “self-explanatory” simply was not. (Occasionally, I’ve been that designer. It’s a humbling experience.)

    So. No. No, I don’t believe there are any good extant examples of highly-polished, out-of-the-box FLOSS user experiences. I’d be happy – delighted – to be proved wrong.

    Apologies for going on at length – I hope I’ve adequately addressed your questions. : . )

  5. Kars says :

    Thanks Adam, those are much more elaborate answers than I could have hoped for. Funny how you go from “it depends” to “no” in your answer to the FLOSS UX question.

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