Chapter 11. Eliminating Excise

Software too often contains interactions that are top-heavy, requiring extra work for users. Programmers typically focus so intently on the enabling technology that they don’t carefully consider the human actions required to operate the technology from a goal-directed point of view. The result is software that charges its users a tax, or excise, of cognitive and physical effort every time it is used.

When we decide to drive to the office, we must open the garage door, get in the car, start the motor, back out, and close the garage door before we even begin the forward motion that will take us to our destination. All these actions support the automobile rather than getting to the destination. If we had Star Trek transporters instead, we’d dial up our destination coordinates and appear there instantaneously — no garages, no motors, no traffic lights. Our point is not to complain about the intricacies of driving, but rather to distinguish between two types of actions we take to accomplish our daily tasks.

Any large task, such as driving to the office, involves many smaller tasks. Some of these tasks work directly towards achieving the goal; these are tasks like steering down the road towards your office. Excise tasks, on the other hand, don’t contribute directly to reaching the goal, but are necessary to accomplishing it just the same. Such tasks include opening and closing the garage door, starting the engine, and stopping at traffic lights, in addition ...

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