"The novel's success brought the term "pollyanna" (along with the adjective "pollyannaish" and the noun "Pollyannaism") into the language to describe someone who is cheerfully optimistic and who always maintains a generous attitude toward the motives of other people. It also became, by extension â€“ and contrary to the spirit of the book â€“ a derogatory term for a naÃ¯ve optimist who always expects people to act decently, despite strong evidence to the contrary."
A little while ago, I was talking to some colleagues about an authentication problem. I suggested we need to improve its usability and my colleague’s immediate response was to argue there’s a security-usability trade-off, i.e. by improving usability, we must resign ourselves to decreasing security. Push one lever down, the other goes up. I’ve never bought into this argument. While certain forces do often conflict with each other, they don’t always, and it’s counter-productive to constrain your solution space with immediate presumptions like that.
Clarke Ching triggered this post with his posts on Non-Zero Sumness and having your cake and eating it. The latter is an example of a twerpy category of fallacious sayings and assumptions in this world which are based on scarcity mentality. For example, the notion that you have to “divide the pie” so that a gain for A is a loss for B. The alternative (as a certain presidential candidate was ridiculed for pointing out) is to make the pie higher. Whoever invented multi-storey buildings figured this out a long time ago.
(BTW “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” is a ridulous premise; what else are you supposed to do with your cake? I see from the wikipedia article that the original phrasing “wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?” is the reverse and makes more sense - you can’t eat your cake and still have it.)
Fortunately, we have sayings and phrases which remind us that it doesn’t have to be a trade-off. Unfortunately, these terms have been over-used by the proverbial “MBA suit guy” that we’re not allowed to use them without offering an apology. e.g. “win-win” and “synergy”. (Both terms I use without apology. I will stop short of “gestalt” though.)
All the above is theoretical rambling - here are some real-world examples.
- Security-Usability Biometric authentication allows people to enter places without typing a password or carrying a card, and is, generally (and theoretically) speaking a more accurate indication of a person's identity. Neither security nor usability suffers from this technology; both have been enhanced. (Privacy advocates will argue there is still a trade-off at stake.)
- Safety-Usability As with security, safety is often assumed to be at odds with usability. In our work on safety-usability patterns, we sought synergies which would ideally improve both at the same time. For example, the pattern called "Behaviour Constraint", sometimes referred to as a "forcing function". In some buildings, when there's a fire, a barrier goes up on the stairs leading to the basement, to ensure people don't keep running down there (example by Don Norman). The wheels of a plane can't be raised if the plane isn't moving (to prevent a pilot from actually raising them while on the tarmac). These are examples which make life easier for users, by reducing the number of decisions they have to make, and at the same time, improve safety by blocking the transition to dangerous states.