Skip to main content

Stephen Fry Groks Software

I must be on a roll - two blog posts in a matter of hours.

Like many who live in the UK I know Stephen Fry as a "celebrity" with a love for "gadgets". However, this recent interview demonstrates that he also groks software, design and usability.

My favourite section contrasts what he calls functional software with Apple's offerings (starting around 6 minutes in):

"[It's] as if these devices are only function objects, and that's what Apple realise, supremely, and others are now beginning to realise. The point is they're made for human beings and human beings are first and foremost emotional creatures. We are creatures of emotion. Our emotion hits the brain, this is study-able - you can see this on encephalographs and things. Emotions hit us before cognitive thought and that means that if we have an object that's in our pocket all the time [...] and we take it out it's something we have a relationship with: we touch it, we feel it, we look at it - whether or not we want [to], that means we have an emotional engagement. And therefore anybody who produces it merely to say, "press this it does this, press that it does that" doesn't understand what it is to be human.

Apple understand that we are all, as human beings, people who want to cradle, stroke, fondle, smile, get annoyed, treat "as alive" an object. That's not pretentious, it's not what Ruskin would call "the pathetic fallacy" it is the way all humans respond to what is around us. Apple got this by making us smile, by making us delight in the things they offered. And now, fortunately, all the other big players: Google and HTC and even Microsoft (god bless them), Motorola and Palm - they're all understanding that users want (to use that terribly hackneyed word) an "experience". Not just a series of functions that "this provides that" as if it's a cupboard, a filing system and that's it - they want to hug it and technology finally allows that."

I agree with him: good software puts the human user at the heart of what it does.