Nielsen calls the OLPC design approach “reckless” (and so do I)

In this BusinessWeek article, Jakob Nielsen calls the OLPC UI design approach “reckless” because they have done no user testing so far. Meanwhile, John Maeda bizzarely praises process as “…the Steve Jobs method. […] You don’t use focus groups. You just do it right.”

You just do it right? …You just do it right? … That’s a little overconfident don’t you think? You are talking about children’s lives and huge chunks of the education budgets of governments that don’t have money to spare. And no self-respecting UCD practitioner would use focus groups in this context anyway. Imagine trying to explain the UI to a bunch of kids in a room. The only way to test it is to put it in the target environment, and look at the way it’s adopted.

What exactly would the UI designers have had to loose from doing a bit of field testing every month from the outset? They had everything to gain and nothing to loose. After all, the UI is hugely adventurous:

  • There are no windows, all the applications run in “full screen mode”.
  • On the “desktop”, you don’t just see icons of your own files, you can see icons of your friends, and you do thinks with them like chat, draw, browse the web or study together.
  • There’s a special button on the keyboard that lets you view and (allegedly) edit the sourcecode of the program you are using at any time.

Innovation is a wonderful thing but you have to reality check: are these concepts really the best approach for the user requirements? And have they been implemented in the best possible way? They are making a lot of assumptions – it’s a big gamble.

I’ve yet to hear about the plans they have for releasing UI updates for the OLPC. Since when in the history of computing did version 1 of anything turn out to be the panacea of good design? At least when you buy version 1 of something, you know what you’re in for. The kids wont have a choice.

> Read BusinessWeek Article (“The face of the $100 laptop”)