Last week Slate ran an example of the design criticism I am missing: "I hate my iPad," by John Swansburg.
I admit that I bought my iPad for the wrong reasons. I got one because it seemed like everyone I knew had gotten one for Christmas and, well, I felt left out. I didn't think about how it would fit in with the gadgets I already owned (laptop, Kindle, iPhone), and I didn't borrow a friend's and take it on a test drive. Now I just feel annoyed, having spent $600 on a device that hasn't done anything to improve my life. A salad spinner would have been a better investment, and I don't even eat that much salad.I don't think the iPad is useless.And so on. Swansburg disusses the tablet's browsability and readability, distractions of the internet and requests for payment from iTunes. Then he gets into an IM duscussion with his tech-loving colleagues, and wins a few points.
There's no question that it makes browsing the Web while sitting on the couch easier. Though I have a relatively svelte laptop, it's kind of a pain to tote around the apartment. But am I the kind of person who pays $600 to save the effort of detaching some USB cables from time to time? I don't want to be that kind of person.
Last semester I was looking for examples of interaction design criticism for my D-Crit class and came up short. Reviews I read were either in love with the idea of the app, never mind the execution; or too tecnical for the lay reader; or too focused on the device and not the experience. I've seen the iPad reviewed as fetish object and as tech advance, but never before the whole user experience. What Swansburg provided was what I have been missing: a walk-through of how a regular person might use the device. It is sidewalk criticism for the digital world, and we need more (a lot more) of it.
The fact that this review is "late" is part of its beauty. I've often considered starting a column called The Late Adopter, to talk about what is surely my shared experience as someone who can't and won't rush out and buy the latest thing. I don't have the money for much of it, but more to the point, I like to see what people say a new thing is good for, and whether that's something I need to do. But so few reviews go there, since the tech critics have to review immediately and move on. And most real people, once they have spent $600, are loath to admit they can't actually do anything new and better on their latest purchase. Sounds a lot like some architecture criticism, no?
So, let's backtrack. If there are other pieces of design/tech criticism you love, please send links (maybe I'll assign them next fall). And I will continue to hope for more Mumfords of the digital realm.