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Premack’s Principle Applied To Software

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wikipedia lays out David Premack’s principle in laymen’s terms:

Premack's Principle suggests that if a student wants to perform a given activity, the student will perform a less desirable activity to get at the more desirable activity.

Many people grow up under a rigorous application of the principle. Parents around the world tell kids to “finish your homework before you play outside”, and “finish your vegetables* before you eat desert”.



Did you ever wonder if the “no pain, no gain” line of thought drilled into us since grade school allows for a high level of friction in software? Users are willing to accept pain, and creators subliminally dish it out.

This is my theory: we allow business software to have high levels of friction because employees are predisposed to slog through undesirable activities inside software to get a job “done”, or just get paid (a highly desirable activity). Thus, with limited resources, business will always favor features over usability.

What do you think?

* The discerning reader will notice that the Imperial Stormtroopers featured in the picture are bearing fruit - not vegetables. However, section 4 of the artistic license granted to me as the owner of this blog includes a clause that allows pictures of Imperial Stormtrooper action figures to appear in any post, even when it risks creating cognitive dissonance. Pictures of Jar Jar Binks are still strictly prohibited.