Design/HCI issues

Technophobia can result not only from bad software design but also if a user has a bad experience with new software. Here is an example to illustrate this concept.

A friend who works as an air traffic controller was terrified when I told him about a new system for air traffic management. At present, controllers work with paper strips on which they can note information. The new system was designed to recreate the same work environment: it is a touch-sensitive screen allowing the movement of "digital strips" in the same way as the paper strips. You can write on these strips with a pencil or even with your finger. The information is displayed on-screen with a 'handwriting' font. I showed my friend this new system and he was very enthusiastic about it because the system was adapted to his way of working and not the other way around.

Paper strips
paper strips

Digital strips
digital strips

New systems can be rejected by the end users because the systems are unfamiliar to them and seem difficult to use. Usually the system designers are not the end users and lack of communication between these groups can lead to unusable systems. This is an instance of the age-old dilemma between designing for novices and experts.

People in different areas fear technology – especially in air traffic control. These people will not go to technology but technology can go to them with solutions that are adapted to their requirements. An adapted system is a system designed for the end users and not for computer literates. No real computing science training should be required to use the system. The number of system features has to be adequate too. Software designers tend to add features which are not required and which appear to be useless for the end users who consider them as gadgets, and consequently reject them.


People who fear technology will make very little effort to adapt themselves to new software. As a consequence, software must adapt to the user. This is something that may appear self-evident, but which system designers are only now starting to appreciate.

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