Considerate Software [...]

Considerate software, initially proposed in Alan Cooper’s About Face, is software which tries to emulate the interaction of a caring friend or shopkeeper. Key to the idea of considerate software is that it be thoughtful about the cognitive load and distraction it puts on the user.

Jeff Atwood talks about Considerate Software. He identifies 12 points Cooper makes about considerate software:

  • Considerate software takes an interest
  • Considerate software is deferential
  • Considerate software is forthcoming
  • Considerate software uses common sense
  • Considerate software anticipates needs
  • Considerate software is conscientious
  • Considerate software doesn’t burden you with its personal problems
  • Considerate software keeps you informed
  • Considerate software is perceptive
  • Considerate software is self-confident
  • Considerate software doesn’t ask a lot of questions
  • Considerate software takes responsibility
  • Considerate software knows when to bend the rules

All of these principles are explained in detail in his post. (Link)

If we could pull some broad themes out, the key seems to be that considerate software finds a balance between putting the user in control and not bothering the user unnecessarily. Inconsiderate software veers towards one extreme or the other, either denying the user needed information or endlessly peppering the user with questions and alerts.

There is a second part here, perhaps, for programmers. Many things are done to make programming easy at the expense of users. We don’t want to deal with cookies or localStorage so we ask people to re-input information repeatedly. We don’t want to take responsibility for deleting useful things, so we push it onto the user with confirmation boxes. We don’t want to maintain complex logic, so we ask the user to think like a computer rather than have the computer attempt to interpret human input.

In both these realms, it is useful to think about what the equivalent human interaction would be, and what rules would govern it. In general, it would be quieter but more directed towards the user’s needs.

Tea Kettle Tech outlines similar ideas from Amber Case.