The Productivity Paradox

American society is built on contradictions. We worship independence but crave connection. We want freedom, but seek commitment. We venerate efficiency, but chase new technologies that can actually decrease our productivity. I call this the Productivity Paradox.

Huh? Case in point: Apple IOS 7. I hate it. Somebody must like it; Apple sure is selling a lot of iPhones and iPads. But to me, most of the changes are a major step backward in productivity. They changed the way features work without really improving their functionality in most cases. The result is confusion that saps productivity. It’s frustrating.

Example 1: The calendar function. The purpose of keeping a calendar is to provide reminders of important events. Apple gave the world a gift when it built alerts into its calendar system. I would be lost without them. But in IOS 7, they actually hid the alert function. I spent ten minutes today looking for it. I was ready to throw my iPhone in the trash when I accidentally clicked on something that didn’t appear to be clickable and discovered where they had hidden it. I’m sure some designer was basking in the afterglow of his simple, elegant interface … that totally baffled the user – me, someone who has never used anything but Apple products for the last 30 years. Duh? Why would you hide the reminder feature in a calendar. Does no one do usability testing anymore?

Example 2: The Map App. This actually works better than it used to … if you can figure out how to use it. In previous iterations of the Map App, you would type in an address, press go and be guided to your destination. Now you type in your address and are confronted with six meaningless, non-intuitive icons which you must press randomly to get into “guide me there” mode.

If these were isolated examples, I would dismiss them. But they aren’t. They’re typical of this so-called upgrade which amounts to little more than an elegant purple fart from one of the world’s great technology companies. Somebody, somewhere has lost their way at Apple. They’ve traded “simple” for the “appearance of simple.” They’ve confused design changes with productivity improvements.

Apple wasn’t the first to try to pass off a new look for productivity improvements. Microsoft has been changing the location of features in its popular Office suite for years without adding much to the functionality of the software. Every time they move functions around, I waste time looking for them.

But Apple has outdone even Microsoft. On top of senseless changes to its IOS, Apple has done away with documentation so that users are forced to figure out these non-intuitive changes on their own. Net net: the 200 plus improvements in IOS 7 that Apple brags about are wasting my time. Somebody please put the adults in charge again.

Why do I call this the Productivity Paradox? Designers and developers must have the freedom to improve their products. But they they need to realize that every time they change a widget, it’s going to force their most loyal users to relearn the software. Developers sell these changes as productivity improvements but they actually decrease productivity.

If there’s a genuine improvement, great. But if there isn’t, please don’t fix what ain’t broke.