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In Search of Simplicity

Have you ever felt that some pieces of electronic equipment were just too clever for their own good?

0 – A In the film Amadeus there's a lovely scene in which Emperor Joseph II of Austria is asked what he thinks of Mozart's music. It's a tense moment for Mozart, the unknown young composer. What does the emperor make of Mozart's new music? He likes it, but something's not quite right. "What do you mean, Sir?" Mozart asks. "Too many notes," replies the emperor. That feeling, that there is too much to understand all at once, is a familiar one to users of many modern technology products. Think of a software programme with all its detailed menus and screens, or e-commerce sites with form after form to Jill in, or the complicated telephone in your pocket with all those buttons, icons and messages. Too many functions, too many screens - too many notes.

16 "The too many notes" problem is a symptom of a larger problem in technological innovation because a good idea can easily turn into a bad product. For example, think about the products considered to be the great technological successes of the twentieth century: the photocopier, fax video recorder, PC, mobile phone. Now think of the technology that frustrates you as a consumer: it's probably the same list of essential pieces of equipment, since most of them are difficult to use.

17 Yet it's not that these products don't function properly. Companies put technical products through all sorts of tests before they come onto the market. Indeed, there's a whole industry sector that specializes in technology testing. But what they are testing is whether the product works. What they should be testing is how it works, and how it could work better for the consumer.

18 There seems to be some confusion about what makes a good product, as opposed to good technology. People seem to believe that the more a piece of equipment can do, the better it is. Most software packages and most pieces of electronic equipment have 'too many functions. And that's because technological development is led by engineers, whose job involves endlessly dreaming them up and adding them. In a typical home, for example, there are many devices that tell the time: cookers, radios, answering machines, TVs and hi-fi systems, as well as clocks and wrist watches. Some of them need to know the time to perform their other functions, but others don't - the clock was just added for the sake of it.

19 Another problem is that companies are not good at getting the right information from the people who will use their products. For example, a lot of faith is put in market-research interview. People say all sorts of things in response to questions, but rarely what they really think. Tounderstand consumer behaviour, designers are now getting help from people called ethnographers, who spend their time observing how people actually behave, which can be of great importance in the design of a genuinely useful new product.

20 A further reason for the failure of technology is the lack of cooperation between the engineers and those who do the marketing in many companies. Engineers invent useful things and are good at solving technical problems, but are often not so good at explaining things to non-technicians. Marketing staff, therefore, find it hard to follow what engineers ate talking about, so tend to put too much emphasis on the familiar aspects of new technology when promoting the products.

A People have always had difficulty appreciating things that seem too complicated.

B Different groups of people involved in the development of new technology often disagree with each other.

C There's a reason why some pieces of equipment become unnecessary complicated.

D The people who encourage us to buy new technology may not fully understand it themselves.

E The most useful pieces of equipment can also be the most annoying.

F Some companies have succeeded in improving the way new products are developed.

G Companies spend too much time 'checking one aspect of a product's quality.

H Consumers are not always good at predicting their own technological needs.


Task 5Read the text below. For question (21-30) choose the correct answer (A, B, C or D). Write your answer in the boxes. An example (0) has been done for you.

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