Not too many buttons

I didn’t intend to spend a while writing about the internet’s joke du jour, the OpenOfficeMouse, but I started writing a comment on Chris Messina’s thoughtful post and it expanded into something post-worthy.

OpenOfficeMouseI feel sorry for the people who must have worked hard to make this mouse happen. Sure, it’s not the peak of industrial design, but I really don’t think it deserves universal ridicule. Much of the criticism seems to focus on the complexity of the thing, comparing it to Apple’s ultra-simple designs. Given the target market — hard-core gamers and intensive technical applications — this seems like the wrong comparison.

It’s not the first mouse with more than a handful of buttons:

I bet there are equally complicated control systems available for niche, technical, professional applications that I don’t know the Google keywords for.

The announcements of most of the above generated much excitement and exclamations of lust, rather than the derision the OpenOfficeMouse has received. The difference is the mis-match of the design with what we expect for the field.

The OOM site describes how the mouse was originally conceived to play games (like most of the above) but the team then decided it would be useful for non-gaming applications too. So we have a mouse with a design which is — in the world of technical, dedicated controllers — probably unremarkable rather than terrible, getting the kind of attention usually devoted to a fetishistic gaming accessory.

If this mouse had exactly the same feature-set, but was finished in black plastic, with plenty of curves and a blue neon glow, everyone who’s asked “Is this a joke?!” would be saying “OMG! WANT!!”

The problem isn’t that the mouse has too many buttons and features — there are other mice with more.

The problem isn’t that it has appalling design — it’s poor and uninspired, but it’s not the worst thing ever.

The fundamental problem is that the product is aiming for two very specific, probably unreconcilable, niche audiences (hard-core gamers and hard-core office workers) while associating itself with a brand (OpenOffice) that wants to be completely mainstream.

While everyone’s knee-jerk response is to laugh at the number of buttons and the uninspired design, the basic source of the humour stems from the mis-match between requirements, expectations, design and marketing. They are all at odds here, and all working against each other.

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8 Nov 2009 at Twitter

  • 1:39pm: Learning about logarithms now we have calculators and spreadsheets is like learning how to shoe horses now we have cars. I never understood.