Lucy Suchman

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About

Lucy Suchman is an anthropologist and a pioneer in usability and accessibility. She played a significant role in the introduction of anthropology to tech r&d through her tenure at Xerox PARC from 1979 to 2000. Her research centers on relations of ethnographies of everyday practice to new technology design.

The Green Print Button

Legend has it that Suchman is credited with the creation of the large green print button on industrial printers, and that the green button came out of her realization of the severe difference existed between those that created the printers (the engineers), and those that used them (regular everyday businesspeople that simply needed to get a job done). She argued that businesspeople didn't need large sets of features, only a simple button in order to understand a machine.

In reality, the legend is actually the opposite of what Suchman achieved at PARC. Her proposal was that the green button actually "masked the labor that was needed to become familiar with the machine and incorporate it effectively into use".[1] She argued that the "more generally the imperative to market new technologies as if they can be incorporated into working practices without any upfront investment in resources for learning is a false economy, one for which front line workers usually bear the cost".[2]

Her analysis is true for most new technology. The majority of new tech does require an upfront learning cost and understanding of new systems, icons, and interfaces. Much of it downplays the cost of learning and mentions that it is easy to use. However, the iPad is an example of an interface and touch-enabled system that is easily used by babies, grandparents and even cats. It cuts across age and technological knowledge and provides a direct way to interact with information.

References

  1. Suchman, Lucy. Anthropology as ‘Brand’: Reflections on corporate anthropology. Lancaster University. Paper presented at the Colloquium on Interdisciplinarity and Society, Oxford University, 24 February 2007. Pg. 3
  2. Ibid.