The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity / Edition 1

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Despite enormous investments in computers over the last twenty years,productivity in the very service industries at which they were aimed virtually stagnated everywhere in the world.

If computers are not making businesses, organizations, or countries more productive, then why are we spending so much time and money on them? Cutting through a raft of technical data, Thomas Landauer explains and illustrates why computers are in trouble and why massive outlays for computing since 1973 have not resulted in comparable productivity payoffs. Citing some of his own successful research programs, as well as many others, Landauer offers solutions to the problems he describes.

While acknowledging that mismanagement, organizational barriers, learning curves, and hardware and software incompatibilities can play a part in the productivity paradox, Landauer targets individual utility and usability as the main culprits. He marshals overwhelming evidence that computers rarely improve the efficiency of the information work they are designed for because they are too hard to use and do too little that is sufficiently useful. Their many features, designed to make them more marketable, merely increase cost and complexity. Landauer proposes that emerging techniques for user-centered development can turn the situation around. Through task analysis, iterative design, trial use,and evaluation, computer systems can be made into powerful tools for the service economy.

Landauer estimates that the application of these methods would make computers have the same enormous impact on productivity and standard of living that were the historical results of technological advances in energy use (the steam engine, electric motors), automation in textiles and other manufacture, and in agriculture. He presents solid evidence for this claim, and for a huge benefit-to-cost ratio for user-centered design activities backed by descriptions of how to do these necessary things, of promising applications for better computer software designs in business, and of the relation of user-centered design to business process reengineering, quality, and management.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"Everyone who has ever stood in line as a clerk [and] fussed over a finicky,computerized check-out machine, or wondered why computers seem tocomplicate life instead of simplifying it, will appreciate Landauer'scleanly argued and thoroughly readable book."Elizabeth Corcoran , Washington Post
Elizabeth Corcoran, Washington Post
Everyone who has ever stood in line as a clerk [and] fussed over a finicky, computerized check-out machine, or wondered why computers seem tocomplicate life instead of simplifying it, will appreciate Landauer'scleanly argued and thoroughly readable book.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262621083
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 6/6/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 440
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas K. Landauer has been elected into the CHI Academy by The Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (ACM SIGCHI) in recognition of his outstanding leadership and service in the field of computer-human interaction.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: The Trouble with Computers 1
I The Productivity Puzzle 9
1 The Evidence 13
2 What Computers Do 47
3 The Productivity Paradox 73
II Solutions to the Puzzle 79
4 Excuses 83
5 Reasons 115
III What's Wrong with Them 137
6 Usefulness and Usability 141
7 Software Design, Development, and Deployment 169
8 Hype and Broken Promises: or, Why do we love them still? 181
IV How to Fix Computers 195
9 The Track Record So Far 199
10 User-Centered Design 205
11 Here's How 237
12 User-Centered Design Methods 277
13 User-Centered Development 301
14 User-Centered Deployment: Or, What to Use Them For and How 323
V What Then? 345
15 Fantasy Business Systems 349
16 Life, Love, and Intellect 361
Notes 367
References 393
Index 407
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