Alan Cooper is a man on a mission. And though the fate of mankind may not hang in the balance, his success could lead to a dramatic improvement in the quality of life — especially for people whose VCRs still sport a flashing 12:00.
Cooper, author of The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, is out to change the way high-tech designers think. He sums up the problem in the subtitle to his 1999 bestseller: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. “Software-based products are not inherently hard to use,” Cooper writes. “They are that way because we use the wrong process for creating them.”
Coopers crusade to convince designers to “stop wasting users time” led him in 1992 to launch with his wife, Sue, Cooper Interaction Design, a firm dedicated to what he says is the “forgotten person in todays technology-based products and services. The customer.”
“Whenever we go into an elevator, Alan has to redesign the interaction as we stand there, many times to the amusement of other passengers,” says Sue Cooper, chief executive of the company. “He wants humans to come first, not the technology.”
There are signs that Coopers approach is taking hold. “More clients,” he says, “are coming to us when they are just forming the concept and they are looking to us for guidance on their strategy.” Many companies now boast chief customer experience officers or senior vice presidents of customer experience, with some — like Microsoft — realigning their businesses around customer groups rather than products and platforms.
Cooper says hes encouraged there is some light at the end of the tunnel — and not just from the glow of all those flashing 12:00s.