kaigou: (5 flowers on brick)
[personal profile] kaigou
One of my biggest issues with application development is when any driver in the development (whether programmers, designers, or the corporate decision-makers) declare that "users can just get used to this". I end up arguing the opposite, every single time. Like arguing that users do need a halfway button that says "save and continue" on a really long form, or that we can't drop the red asterisk for colorblind users who won't see the red outline on a text-box, or that a series of steps aren't obvious or intuitive. I don't believe you can force users -- or that you even should -- into changing their own perceptions and patterns just because you think it's easier to not include that second button, or because you believe asterisks will "mess up" your pretty styles.

Since an application's purpose is to help someone work more efficiently (whether at a new task or just redoing an old task in a new format, like in-browser), making the users slow down to learn a new pattern-language seems counterproductive. You have to fit the application to the users, and any changes must be slow and subtle. We're all old dogs, really, when it comes to how we interact with patterns.

I see the same argument in fiction, where users (readers) argue for things like "pronounceable names" or dislike settings or conflicts that don't mesh with their expectations. Things like female characters who are androgynous enough that an unfamiliar character might, at first, not be sure of the female character's sex/gender. Or hierarchies that don't work in the same way as those the reader knows. Or even just value systems that aren't in-culture for the reader: different priorities, like setting one's family/parents above one's personal ambitions. Those kinds of stories are the opposite of the application-design style above, because they don't bend to the user's conventions, but expect the reader to bend to mesh with the story.

[paragraph above is badly-phrased, see comments for discussion/elaboration]

Maybe such unfamiliar-named, unfamiliar-setting stories might reach a wider audience if they worked more to meet with reader non/familiarity? Like taking a non-English name and anglicizing it a little differently to make its pronunciation more obvious, more understandable to English-familiar readers? (I am suddenly thinking of Korean names, which seem to be anglicized in any of a variety of ways, and frequently have vowel-combinations that would be one way based on English rules, but are pronounced quite differently.) Another is cultural, where the protagonist notes things that would be taken for granted in the protag's own culture (ie, family over individual or vice versa), but are distinctly different from the reader's culture, and thus are tagged or lampshaded solely for the reader's benefit. (Characters who note the side of the road driven is a huge, if rare, example: who the hell ever stops to think about what side of the road they drive on, if they grew up with that understanding/assumption?)

I recall someone on my dwircle was discussing/reviewing a book set in Japan, I think it was, where the main character noted such cross-culture differences. Those familiar with Japanese culture found it off-putting, it seemed, because these seemed like things a Japanese person would never think to randomly compare. I mean, how often do you go around your native/home culture and say, "I'm getting cucumbers and okra, but you'd never see these in a Russian supermarket"? Those who not quite familiar with Japanese culture seemed to be more forgiving, maybe because they were glad of being given some handle on the differences. It can be hard to assess what's "strange" for a character when the entire setting is strange to you, as the reader.

Bend to the user/reader, or expect the reader/user to bend to the story? What do you think?

Date: 11 Jun 2011 10:06 pm (UTC)
the_future_modernes: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_future_modernes
I think that the issue of privilege is being ignored here. Which users complain about books that don't bend to there specifications and which users had better locate dictionaries and or guess and get on with the story, cause their comprehension of what the fuck is going on is not considered important. Specifically, white Westerners demand hand holding. People from the Global South are expected to consume White Western Stuff and get it and understand it, and if they don't they are considered unintelligent.

Date: 11 Jun 2011 10:30 pm (UTC)
the_future_modernes: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_future_modernes
I...have hit the point where I just don't care about people who are that fucking racist and unable to get the hell out of their boundaries you know? The rest of the world got fucking forced to do it. Your loss if you feel that you need more catering to.

Date: 12 Jun 2011 01:25 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] axelrod

And you can't force someone to step outside their (horrifically claustrophic) comfort zone if they don't want, however much hand-holding you provide. Better to write to the sort of audience you *want* to read your stuff.

Date: 12 Jun 2011 01:33 am (UTC)
the_future_modernes: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_future_modernes
yup yup.

Date: 11 Jun 2011 10:32 pm (UTC)
the_future_modernes: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_future_modernes
Yes. Because in the web apps. the designer is forgetting that a lot of people don't have access to computers to spend the hours of time necessary to be familiar with a lot of things. Or are older and coming to the computers as a new-fangled thing, and again don't havethe time to learn and the money to learn. Among other privileges.

Date: 11 Jun 2011 11:35 pm (UTC)
smw: A woman sits at a typewriter, pages flying, a plug in the back of her awesomely big-curly hair. (Confuse)
From: [personal profile] smw
Granted that I don't know much about programing for users, your stance there seems perfectly reasonable. I don't think the analogy to stories works, though, possibly because the point of stories isn't using a pattern to complete a task: the pattern is, to an extent, the point. (Exceptions being allegory and other stories that do have a educational/pragmatic purpose, but now I'm distracting from my own already rambling comment, here.)

So: the story should be whatever it has to be, and presentation being very firmly tied up in that, I think the issue of what details to include or exclude is just as sticky as that of any other inclusion. Doubtless there are inclusions/exclusions that will make certain people more comfortable, but an author can't reliably predict those, and ultimately can't please all their readership, so it's a futile sort of effort anyway. Might as well go with whatever feels best for the story.

That being said: personally I do think there's something essentially problematic and off-putting about portraying someone else's culture as essentially an unknown. Frankly I think if an author has to go out of their way to point something out – like family being valued more than personal ambitions – in the narration, they're probably doing it wrong anyway.

So: so far as I know, you bend to the user. But you expect the reader to bend to the story (unless the story benefits by being bent).

Date: 11 Jun 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
smw: A woman sits at a typewriter, pages flying, a plug in the back of her awesomely big-curly hair. (Spice)
From: [personal profile] smw
And isn't deciding when that's true really the hardest part of the entire equation?

Yes. But nobody ever said it was easy. *g*

Less snarky: On a purely personal basis, I choose to write the stories I would like to read, which don't include much bending to the reader (dark secret: I have a character whose fake name includes not only an accent, but a grave accent). Then I hope somebody else understands and can get something out of it. I know that's not a workable solution for everybody, though, because I'm not very other-focused and a lot of authors are, as performers/entertainers. So.

Date: 12 Jun 2011 03:28 pm (UTC)
smw: A woman sits at a typewriter, pages flying, a plug in the back of her awesomely big-curly hair. (Heal)
From: [personal profile] smw
I take for granted that everything to do with one's creativity and expression thereof is going to be a little skew from what one would expect of it. Hard-working and other-focused are certainly not inherently bad traits to have as a writer, though.

And I think I should go read that new post, eh?

Date: 11 Jun 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
My horrid experiences with poor user-interface issues has been caused not by sloppy programmers but by budgets that cut to the bone and don't allow the labor time required to move onward to tweaks that make the thing more easily understood, vs. making it work at all. They also don't allow training time and expect you to figure it out somehow.
And not the fault of the programmers.
RE: privilege in reading, genre readers have different base assumptions about what they need to watch for than mainstream fiction readers do, and that's reflected in awkward inexpert reviews by "outsiders".
A subgenre SF & F book might either 1) throw around handwavey timey wimey nonsense, don't look at it too closely, or 2) require an unusually high level of understanding of orbital mechanics and other physics.
An SF & F reader in the first case will skip merrily over the bafflegab by ignoring it, trusting the writer to hold their hand later on when it matters. (Also ignoring a lot of cultural appropriation issues, in a very privileged sort of way.) In the second case, they'll argue with the writer that he didn't get it right, and send them letters with details proving it. (Golden Age sf magazine readers, case in point.)
Whereas, a serious mainstream reader will feel obligated to go investigate the weird place names and figure out what the food referred to might be, and why that food developed right there.
Or else whine about being too tired or stressed to bother.

Date: 13 Jun 2011 01:06 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
Bafflegab is not an original term with me, I first heard it from some oldtime fans, used in the context of nonsense tech on Doctor Who...original BBC black and white Who, that is, not sure which Doctor.
And yes, we definitely had some issues on the interface developers doing the "you're not actually worthy of sonsideration as a human.
Aka, "Opposing Side's Opinion is Meaningless, Shut Up and Sit Down."
Because, y'know, it might have meant acknowledging problems that had to be fixed were not going to allow the project to go live on schedule, so we will pretend there aren't any.
Until after the go-live hoopla is over and the actual users have put in their complaints about getting it fixed (you can wait a year for major pieces of work to be resumed, thank you, we'll let you know when we get to it) and the actual process is completely borked.
As in, not meeting legally-mandated deadlines, borked.
But hey, not our deveopers' problem, right?

Date: 12 Jun 2011 01:22 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] axelrod
Art and stories are often *meant* to bend our minds. If a reader doesn't want their mind bent, that's fine and they shouldn't read something that critiques the kyriarchical structure of their own culture, or a work of experimental fiction or whatever. I mean, I don't read experimental writing often because it's usually a lot of work but I sure as hell don't think experimental writing is a bad thing.

And I just think your whole analogy doesn't hold up. Yeah, writers are going to think about their audience and their audience's expectations and weight to what extent they want to play into or against those expectations. Programmers should also be thinking about what their hypothetical users need/want and *should only play into those expectations, not against them*. Because a program is a tool, and a story is a story.

dislike settings or conflicts that don't mesh with their expectations. Things like female characters who are androgynous enough that an unfamiliar character might, at first, not be sure of the female character's sex/gender. Or hierarchies that don't work in the same way as those the reader knows.

I guess some stories don't challenge readers and aren't meant to, but those usually aren't the stories I'm interested in reading and they sure as hell aren't the kind of stories I'm interested in writing.

Also, I am a female who is always misgendered - usually assumed to be a woman and occasionally assumed to be a man, and it's not atypical for me to inspire a double-take (I notice this especially when I use the women's bathroom, which on the whole is less awkward than what might happen in most men's bathrooms). So basically, you're describing my own lived experience and that of everyone I encounter, but implying that it's as Other as "hierarchies that don't work in the same way as those the reader knows". I find your use of that example off-putting.

Date: 12 Jun 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] axelrod
It wasn't clear to me overall what direction you were approaching the matter from. Were you presenting us with simple hypotheticals, in order to get us thinking, or did these examples represent your own way of thinking at all. So I didn't know how to read it when you used androgynous females as an example of something Other. If I didn't know you better, based on other posts of yours I've read, I would have made some unflattering assumptions. And I do wish you'd signaled better what you were trying to accomplish with this post.

It's just... really really hard to take a critique where the bulk of the story-critiques consist of people shoving their personal This/Other onto my story, where the This/Other is not theirs. But for the character, it's a consistent This/Other.

Oh, I can see why: almost certainly a display of privilege, and also missing the point of what you as a writer were trying to do, which is to create cohesive characters with their own internal logic and sets of assumptions about how the world works.

Date: 12 Jun 2011 02:16 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] axelrod
*nod* I mean, it's ok. I had a few minutes of "I AM BEING OTHERED!!!" but keep in mind I get pissed off easily and it's all cool now :) And I really like your posts :)

Date: 12 Jun 2011 02:22 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] dsgood
In L. Sprague De Camp's historical novel An Elephant for Aristotle, the Greek narrator comments on such strange foreign customs as shaking hands and celebrating birthdays. Which is one way of getting around the "characters commenting on something they wouldn't notice about their own culture/society" problem.

Date: 12 Jun 2011 02:33 am (UTC)
thejeopardymaze: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thejeopardymaze
One of my biggest issues with application development is when any driver in the development (whether programmers, designers, or the corporate decision-makers) declare that "users can just get used to this"...

I don't believe you can force users -- or that you even should -- into changing their own perceptions and patterns just because you think it's easier to not include that second button, or because you believe asterisks will "mess up" your pretty styles.

This describes the problem with GNOME project so well, and at this point I'm grateful Android might eventually make those types of desktop systems for the Linux kernel moot in a few years. I've seen rants by GNOME leaders in the past on OS News complaining about stupid users instead of addressing user's concerns I'd never want to touch their software with a ten foot pole.

I can't comment on the literary analogy, just had a need to vent.

Date: 12 Jun 2011 09:55 pm (UTC)
thejeopardymaze: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thejeopardymaze
If you can't even get someone to grant the other side basic human dignity, there's little hope of a good resolution...

That is, funnily enough, one of my main problems with the promoters of forgiveness for everything, no matter how horrid the act. If the victimizer isn't even seriously willing to face up to their wrongdoing and treat the victim as an actual human being who was seriously wronged, why should the victim have to even consider the possibility?

There are other things, like many of the claims said by forgiveness promoters about forgiveness I've yet to see be held under serious scientific scrutiny (if you read the rhetoric they make it almost sounds like it practically cures AIDS and PTSD, how is this different from snake oil salesmen?).

Date: 12 Jun 2011 02:46 am (UTC)
dragonhand: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dragonhand
It's the author's job to write what's important to them. It's the reader's job to read the story as it's told. How am I supposed to learn things about other times, places, people and cultures if they merge them with my own? With any book, comic or otherwise, I expect to be dropped into whatever the situation is, with whoever the characters are, and run along with them till I start getting the rules of the world they live in. If I stick with it, I'll eventually get it. Hopefully I'll also start to learn more about the culture until a lot of what's normal for then becomes normal for me as well. Then the next book I read from that background will be more familiar, and even more familiar in the book after that.

That said, I'd really like to know how to pronounce names correctly, so I don't feel dim for having it set in my head all wrong and then learning otherwise, but that's easily fixed with a pronunciation guide in the back of the book.

Date: 12 Jun 2011 11:55 pm (UTC)
dragonhand: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dragonhand
This is how I started learning about Japan, too, and I've been reading a lot more non fiction from other countries as well. But I like that SFF has paved the way for me to feel excited to be immersed into an unfamiliar setting or culture.

Carolingian? oooooh. Good hand. I'll have to go stalk her. ^_^

Date: 12 Jun 2011 02:58 am (UTC)
staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] staranise
I feel like interface design and stories are almost diametrically opposed for this purpose. You want to make interfaces easy for people to use, and therefore bend to the user, because using the interface isn't the point; it's just a tool to get somewhere. On the other hand, if someone finds a story difficult reading, they're not kept from doing anything; their life isn't made harder because they put the book down. There's not nearly the kind of imperative, in writing stories.

Date: 12 Jun 2011 11:45 am (UTC)
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
From: [personal profile] cyphomandra
I agree it's not a perfect analogy - I don't think end-users of applications go looking for challenging interfaces, for example, in the way that certain readers go looking for experimental fiction or take a chance on something written with a non-classic structure (but maybe some do? Hmm). In fiction, genre expectations set a lot of this up, and it's interesting what is and isn't widely accepted. Science fiction and fantasy readers may well expect unfamiliar vocabulary, but be uncomfortable with present tense. Detective stories often go for unusual settings, some sorts of action thrillers include vast amounts of technical detail... Personally, I expect more explanation if it's completely made-up. Otherwise, there's always Google.

I avoided examples of non-privileged characters for a privileged audience above, but one example which bugs me, if possibly a bit tangential, is the massive lack of animated movies with non-human female leads (my experience is pretty much all English language originals, but Chicken Run and The Last Unicorn are the only two I know of). I've always seen this as being a step too far for the assumed audience - either nonhuman, or female, but not, not possibly both. Arrgh.