If usability engineers designed nightclubs

(…I was thinking about calling this post “Ellen on Joel on Software” but I think that would be a gross thing to say.)

We had a thread on the UE team mailing list where someone had — reasonably — gotten a bit miffed that Joel Spolsky blithely assumes that most of usability and design are trivial functions that anyone can easily do anytime. One of the Joelisms she cited from User Interface Design for Programmers was:

if usability engineers designed a nightclub, it would be clean, quiet, brightly lit, with lots of places to sit down, plenty of bartenders, menus written in 18-point sans serif, and easy-to-find bathrooms - and nobody would be there? (p. 130)

I am generally a huge fan of Joel on Software — although I am a bit annoyed by his attitude towards my profession — and to lighten the mood, said this as part of my message in the thread:

…and by the way, we all know that usability engineers would never design a brightly lit nightclub. you’d do some contextual interviews, learn that no one really wants to see each other in a nightclub because the primary user motivations are getting laid and drinking away depression, and obviously the place would need to be dark. at which point the designer would come along and suggest putting the menus with 18-point type behind lucite slabs (protects against spilled drinks, too!) with LEDs embedded in the top edge. ;)