Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Power Outage

As I was working from home this morning, the power suddenly went out. It wasn't raining, nor could I hear thunder and lightning. There is construction out behind our house, so I figured I would don my walking shoes and investigate.

All the houses along my street were dark, but the construction area was quiet today. The heavy rains last night and sprinkles yet this morning were keeping the heavy equipment parked on higher ground.

I walked around the block and more quiet houses. A neighbor I hadn't met before was standing at the end of his driveway and asking a question. I held up the universal sign for "just a sec", one finger slightly raised and my hand moving in and out from my body, while I pressed the stop button on my mp3 book, "Cell" by Stephen King.
Have you seen these new audio books yet? They are basically a mp3 player with one full length book, ear phones, lanyard and triple A batteries. Amazing! If only I could download these books to my iPod, it might be a little cheaper. Removing the plugs from my ears, my neighbor and I confirmed each others suspicions, it wasn't just our own house without power, the whole neighborhood was impacted.

We stood at the end of his driveway talking about working from home and what we did for a living. He is a main frame, C programmer and he let me know that he thought Java was a waste of time and money when xml, C and others could do the job with a lot less lines of codes. As we were standing there, the Xcel Energy truck pulled up to his power pole, and the neighbor asked jokingly if he had too many computers running. The lineman jumped down from his truck, walked to the base of the pole and lifted a very stiff squirrel by the tail and said "Nope, this thing did it."

So here we were, standing at the end of the neighbor's driveway, wondering what could of caused this outage, when just 50 feet away, in almost plain sight, lay the answer. The neighbor and I are fairly intelligent human life forms, but we didn't know that the second most common cause of power outage was squirrels, so we didn't look for it or see it. We were also only casually observing the outcome of the outage because there was nothing we could do to fix it.

I see relationships between daily life and product design all the time. Here is what I learned from discovering that squirrels have a mysterious obsession with transformers:
  • If the user knows a products purpose and use, they will find the features they need in it.

  • The user must feel that the product is something they own or have control of or they will only use your product casually.

  • Make a product self evident and allow it to instruct the user as they are able to tackle more complex features.

  • Make a product personalizable and alllow the user to feel in control of the product.
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