The power of vox pop

In most parts of the world the power of the common man has never been so great as today: universal suffrage, no matter what the colour of your skin, your gender or your religious beliefs; education; economic mobility and many other aspects that reflect an improving world.

One of the consequences of this has been the desire for the common man to have his or her voice heard. This shows itself in small things like the number of constituent surgeries that MP’s hold, interviews with ‘the man on the street’ in news bulletins and now, with the rise of the internet, in the form of user opinions and buyer reviews. There are even entire websites (such as that do nothing but allow real users to rate, review and critique products. Many of these opinions are valid and truly help to form a balanced opinion of which microwave, TV or whatever to buy.

However, the weight of these opinions needs to be balanced against the experience of the reviewer and the number of reviews available. For example, you may loath Jeremy Clarkson for his boorish, self centred, arrogant views; but the one thing you cannot deny is that he has driven a lot of cars. So, when deciding which small family car to buy, it may be worth seeing what Clarkson or any of the other presenters on Top Gear had to say about it. No don’t get me wrong- by no means am I saying that you should only listen to Clarkson when buying a car- because if you do then you might end up with a Lamborghini Gallardo Spider or a Ford GT40. And take some advice from someone who owns a fairly silly car- you don’t want one of them. Because if you do want a car like that, you probably have enough money already to buy one. But it you don’t have more money than sense and someone who is paid to review cars says that one of your choices is a good one and one bad, you might just want to listen to them.

But what to do with a more personal, specialised purchase? I recently bought a watch that I like a lot. Unfortunately it didn’t come with an instruction booklet so I had to work out how the various alarm, stop watch and dual time functions work. Most of it was pretty straightforward except for the use of the dual time zone- whenever I changed time zone the watch got all kinds of confused and it took me a while to sort out the time. So, I was not surprised when I read a review that appeared to back this up. The review included statements like

To get it right, you’re goign to waste at least 15 minutes fiddling with it, and chances are if you dont have the manual with you, you wont be succesfull.

Which all seemed true to me. Except that I am bit of a fiddler and I like to try to make things work properly so I kept playing until I finally think that I understand how the watch works: The trick is that the watch does not have 2 time zones, it has 3: the 2 digital ones and the analogue hands. Normally time zone 1 and the analogue hands are in sync so to change time zone you change to digital zone 1, adjust the hours and the analogue hands move accordingly (actually it is kind of cool to watch that happen). But if you attempt to change the hour when you are not on time zone 1 the analogue hands move but the digital one doesn’t.

Now, I don’t know if this a bug or a feature, but if you use it right, it is kind of cool. It is not as the reviewer says

…great at designing quality watches but have no expertise at designing quality user interfaces.

You’d think that for something like this they would hire somebody who does, or at least contract it out to someone who does, but they didnt – apparently they are not even aware that there *is* such a discipline as user interface design.

The fact that the reviewer was not able to work out how to use his watch and the power of the user review means that other people may not buy what I think is a totally cool watch. And that is the very real danger of listening to the voice of the population: Just because you speak loudly doesn’t necessarily mean you speak correctly.