I do really like the Me/Them/Us-ware point though.
One “war story” I have may illustrate this. 15 years ago I was working with a group that makes engine controllers for destroyers. They had one system that was meant to be an electronic version of shipboard panel they had that directed the flow of water through the ship. It had sort of a high-level drawing of the piping with switches at strategic points to control the valves that existed at those points in the ship.
The co-worker of mine that was given the task to computerize this panel did just that. He took a photograph of the existing panel and reproduced it on the computer, complete with switches that looked just like the switches on the panel. This is perfect, right? No re-training required for the operators, after all.
I just hated it. Putting myself in the mind of someone using this thing, and knowing what I know about what could be done, it’s a horrible waste of a potential oppertunity. Think about how you’d use this thing. Suppose you try to turn on flow to an area by opening a valve, and nothing seems to be comming out. How do you track down the problem? The best I can think of is to start at the water source and trace your finger along the lines on the schematic, stopping at any closed valves you find. Now how do you figure out which valve(s to use to shut of flow to three specific areas, but not one other area? Sure, that can be trained, but its not so easy to visualise at a simple glance at the panel.
The abstract drawing with physical switches was a pretty good job on the interface back in the 60’s when this panel was first designed. After all, they just had paint and pysical switches available to work with. With a computer we can make the interface so much better. Sticking them with the same interface is practically a crime.
So on a week or so of lunch breaks I slapped together my own prototype of the interface. Instead of a colored schematic, this one had colored pipes. Instead of switches, it had actual valves that could be toggled by clicking on them. Most importantly, it showed nice blue water in pipes that were connected to a water source by open valves, and empty pipes everywhere else.
The chief engineer for this engine controller group saw this and went bonkers for it. The quote was something along the lines of “That will sell this system”. Apparently, unbeknownst to us grunts, there’d been a lot of political machinations to try to get us thrown off the project. Our competitor had created a Windows-based system under an RD budget for another part of the Navy, and its sponsors in the Navy wanted to see it installed somewhere. If you have ever heard the story about the Windows crash that stranded a US Navy warship, it was that system.
Anyway, we didn’t get thrown off. I don’t know if it was the flow-visualization interface, or the captain using the other system having to get towed back to port. Probably the latter, but I like to flatter myself sometimes.