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Chapter 39. Unusable You

2.70! The number may not be familiar, but the M.I.T. mechanical engineering course it designates is famous. Students get a kit of miscellaneous parts, then compete to design and build the best robot ping-pong ball sweeper or computerized mobile bridge or some other challenge dreamed up by faculty. Professor Woody Flowers, PBS science maven and originator of course 2.70, wants to help tomorrow's designers and engineers make more usable products that really work for humans. His undergraduate design courses have spawned competitions for high school students, and he even arms middle-school students with cameras to search out and document unfriendly or unusable designs around them.

If dumb design is so obvious, why is it that millions of VCRs and microwave ovens around the world flash 12:00 or 88:88? Why doesn't GUI-based software speed up our work? Despite human factors departments and usability testing labs, leading vendors keep on releasing stupid software with major usability problems that a 12-year-old can spot from across the room.


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