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Development | magenta.as | Mar. 3, 2019

How My Brain-Damaged Mother Changed How I Look at Interface Design

One more for my "software is not intuitive" soapbox: user interfaces should both tell you how to use them and adapt to your proficiency. No idea how to build that, but it's something we all need.

How My Brain-Damaged Mother Changed How I Look at Interface Design

Development | magenta.as | Mar. 3, 2019

Her technical expertise launched a billion phone calls, yet now she is routinely thwarted by what many hail as one of the most accessible UIs on the planet. My mom is an O.G. console cowgirl, a real-life hidden figure. Working for Ma Bell in the early ’70s, she was responsible for administrating some of the most powerful computers then in the country, the ones that drove our telephone systems. “I’m one of only seven people who know how to program these,” I remember her once bragging as she swept her hand across a clean room the size of an aircraft hanger filled to the ceiling with blinking, whirring mainframes.
But Sally Brownlee isn’t so good with computers anymore. Last March, she was hit by a car while walking her dog. Everyone survived, but Wally lives with another family now (he’s happy; I hear they have a beach house), and as for Mom, who suffered permanent brain damage, she’s not the same in innumerable ways. But in no way is the change more quantifiable to me than when I watch her stares uncomprehendingly at the keyboard of her laptop, or try and fail to use her iPad for the umpteenth time. This woman’s technical expertise launched