Regrets – and the undo button.


I was reading a book recently where prosthetics were common and one of the characters was telling a common story of how they got theirs.  It involved a mundane task and it was implied that they were negligent.  This got me thinking about the age old question, ‘Does the availability of something make individuals more likely to adapt behavior to get said item or use it?’

Ok, it’s a bit wordy… let’s give examples.

Drugs.  Smartphones.  Alcohol.  Television.  Violent Games. Books.

There are, and in the past, debates about the introduction of these items and what they do to people.  It is the constant debate that holds our society together through the ages, your parents had one with their parents and your kids will have it with you about some new-fangled MacGuffin.

Ok, I hear you saying, ‘So, what?  What is this about regrets?’

When I first started my time at DePaul, I was reading a ton of research on developing new mental models for desktop software as part of a class.  One of the papers I read spoke of a new model that was similar to a Japanese Garden and given to Japanese users.  The paper was incredibly light on actual details or providing explanations to how the model worked which was so very frustrating.

The model doesn’t matter here though, what was important was the feedback.  One of the users was Angry, yes, about the existence of the recycling bin.  Actually angry, as in the word angry was used.

I feel like this is a joke but can imagine why the recycling bin angered a user?  I couldn’t.  Actually, I asked a lot of people who didn’t know either.  Finally I brought the matter to my professor and we discussed it in class.  Now, it is possible this isn’t the reason but this is what we came up with.

The Recycling Bin on modern computers allows the deletion of files but temporarily leaves them available to be recovered if the user changes their mind or needs them.  Now I am going to try and be respectful in this next part.  This functionality makes the assumption, if only tangentially, that you don’t know what you’re doing.  If you did know what you were doing, you wouldn’t have to ever fetch an item out of the recycling bin.  Therefore, the existence of the Recycling Bin is just saying you are incompetent.  Now add this viewpoint to some cultural insights from somewhere like Japan where honor is more important and calling someone incompetent might be an affront to that individual.  As such, Anger.

It’s weird.

So back to that original question, “does the availability affect behavior?”

Of course.

Was the original designer of the undo button lax in their design?  Did the introduction of this functionality steer the course of humanity down a dark path it will never recover from?  Jeez, that’d be an interesting turn.

I don’t think anyone was lax, negligent, or that this availability will skew our world to a darker tomorrow.  I also don’t think that this was a consequence that should have been anticipated.  But the point is that there are people out there who will take offense with some innocuous statement you’ve made or design decision.  That their history and experiences will lead them to that point.  I’m sure there are things that make you irrationally angry, I have them, and we all have them.

With design, we always have a regret whether it is today or next week.  Nothing is perfect and that is why we tend to use agile processes, with the chance to revisit and improve work.  If you have nothing you could improve, I might hazard that you’re missing some steps.

But if we’re talking real regrets, these can be such a powerful aspect of ourselves; it can reveal the truth of people.  I think of my grandfather who passed away a couple years ago.  I regret that he never saw me graduate from DePaul; he saw the beginning of the journey but missed the conclusion or at least missed that first milestone.

Our designs could last a minute or a lifetime.

We should be thoughtful of that.

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