The age old debate of good design.

You may have read Amazon just released a HTML5-based cloud reader which allows you to read any of your Kindle books on any device through a browser. It is pretty cool stuff, especially coming from an author’s perspective (shameless plug to buy my books) — all of a sudden, my books have the potential to reach a much broader audience who do not need specialized, and often costly devices, to start reading eBooks.

That point is amazingly important to the eBook industry. Gone is the hesitation for a consumer who wants to try reading eBooks, but is hesitant to shell out $100+ for an eReader. What happens if they don’t like it? What do they now do with that expensive consumer device? Use it as a fancy drink coaster? Point in fact, I still have a Newton hanging around at home. (and it makes a terrible coaster).

Internally at Salesforce, we use Chatter—a lot. There is currently a great thread about HTML5 and Native apps which started this morning based on Amazon’s cloud reader. I wanted to add a different point of view: It’s not about technology. It is about affordance. Technology is the enabler.

Folks often forget about the notion of affordance as a design principle. Can, by looking at something, do I know how to use it? A chair for example, is logical, I don’t need instructions to use it. I’ve spoken about this before.

Many designers, especially  when shifting from one medium to another, use similar user cues to make this transition easier. In ebooks, this is typically page curls. It makes the concept of reading on a device familiar & comfortable. For us in the tech industry, that medium shift was not a big leap, we use iPads etc every day. It is important to remember that difference. Perhaps a good example is those funky, new-age chairs. By shifting the design, they may look good, but sometimes you loose the affordance.

Where I think Amazon did fail is the reader on the iPad does not include the navigation arrows on the left and right. For someone new to ebooks, not having navigation cues may be confusing. Do I go back with the browser button? Where do I click to go forward etc? The same ‘app’ on the mac, includes these cues which adds to affordance.

Net, net. There are plenty of heathy, and valuable debates of HTML5, Native, etc based solely on technology. However, I firmly believe affordance and intuitive design is fundamental to a products success. Stop and think about the difference between Salesforce.com’s CRM products compared its competitors as a perfect example. Sure, the technology behind is amazing, and makes it all possible, but the user experience and ease of use, is what people fell in love with.

 

 

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The age old debate of good design.