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Interfaces for Staying in the Flow (01 Sep 2004)
While it has become nearly dogma that computer interfaces should be so simple to use that ideally, no documentation should be necessary, there are several counterexamples of tools for expert users that should perhaps cause us to reconsider this approach. For example, both Adobe Photoshop and the Emacs text editor are tools that require significant effort to learn effectively. And yet, those people that do put in that effort often love those tools, sometimes fanatically, and use them in countless ways for years.

Other hard-to-learn tools, on the other hand, don't typically engender widespread approval. This implies it isn't just the difficulty of learning a tool that is important. But rather, that it is possible to learn a tool well enough so that it becomes almost an extension of one's body, like a hammer. Part of the reason Photoshop and Emacs work so well is that once an expert has mastered them, they can focus on the task at hand without interruption. This is due in my opinion to their general efficiency, powerful macro capabilities that allow automation of repetitive tasks, and to the robustness and predictability of the software. Other, more problematic tools, on the other hand, may have usability problems that make it so users never get to the point where the application reaches tool-like status. If users have to re-figure something out, or fight with an unstable feature regularly, they won't be able to get to the point of concentrating on the task.
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