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About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design by David Cronin, Robert Reimann, Alan Cooper

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Chapter 17. Rethinking Files and Save

In the world of digital technology, the place where implementation-model thinking most strikingly rears its ugly head is the management of files and the concept of “save.” If you have ever tried to teach your mother how to use a computer, you will know that difficult doesn’t really do the problem justice. Things start out all right: You start up the word processor and type a couple sentences. She’s with you all the way — it’s like writing on paper. But when you click the Close button, up pops a dialog box asking “Do you want to save changes?” You and Mom hit a wall together. She looks at you and asks, “What does this mean? Is everything okay?”

This problem is caused by software that forces people to think like computers by unnecessarily making them confront the internal mechanisms of data storage. This isn’t just a problem for your mother; even sophisticated computer users can easily become confused or make mistakes. People spend thousands of dollars on hardware and software just to confront impertinent questions like “Do you really want me to save this document that you’ve been working on all afternoon?” and must remember to use to the Save As... command when what they really want to do is work on a copy of the document.

In our experience, people find computer file systems — the facilities that store application and data files on disk — very difficult to use and understand. This is one of the most critical components of computers, and errors ...

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