Designing for the consumer

Paul Saffo, Institute for the Future

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University April 1, 1994


Ease of use and user-friendliness encompass only part of the usefulness equation. We are a frighteningly adaptable species. A good tool should adjust itself to the user, but good tools are scarce, and so we have have learned to happily adapt ourselves to all but the most awkward of gizmos Of course there are limits to what computers can expect their human companions to put up with. We don't use tools simply because they are friendly. We use tools to accomplish tasks, and we abandon tools when the effort required to make the tool deliver exceeds our "threshold of indignation." The threshold of indignation measure also has more general application beyond information technologies. Experiences with other devices can help us better understand the full range of potential consumer behavior.


Paul is a Director at Institute For The Future, a consulting foundation that provides long-range planning and forecasting services to Fortune 100 companies and government agencies. Paul devotes much of his time to making sense of structural shifts occuring at the intersections of the computer, consumer electronics, communications industries.

Paul has been a contributing editor for PC Computing Magazine, Infoworld Magazine and Personal Computing Magazine, as well as a contributing columnist for MacWeek and The Los Angeles Times, writing on the implications of long-term technology trends. Paul's essays on the larger implications of technology trends have appeared in a variety of other publications, including The New York Times, Fortune, The Harvard Business Review, Byte, Wired, ComputerWorld, and Publish Magazine. A book of Paul's essays, Dreams in Silicon Valley, was recently published in Japan.

Paul holds a B.A. from Harvard College, an LL.B from Cambridge University, and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. At Stanford, he was Editor-in-Chief of the Stanford Journal of International Law. Prior to joining IFTF in 1985, Paul practiced law in Silicon Valley, specializing in technology and venture capital matters.


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