Sitting down in the naughahyde dentist's chair, I was confronted by the following screen:
In this blurry iPhone photo, you probably can't see the details of the UI, so I'll briefly describe them.
At the very top of the screen, the dental technician could select from a series of options, such as activities, lists, orders, and utilities as a set of dropdown menus. (You can also tell from the "chrome" that it's running in Windows XP.)
Below that, you can see that the entire user interface consists of a reflection of the room that I was currently sitting within. By clicking on the various areas, around the room, you could access my chart (by clicking "CHART") or the screen in the bottom right ("Patient Information"). And the buttons running along the top of the screen are repeat links to those same verbs that are woven through the room.
"I have to ask you," I said to the dental technician before she settled into the cleaning, pointing up at the screen. "Do you enjoy using this?"
She took pause from removing her tartar-removing tools from the sanitizer. "At first, I just hit the buttons at the top for what I wanted. But as I got used to clicking on the pictures, now I just do that."
Time passed, and the joys of dental cleaning were experienced, giving me plenty of time to chew (metaphorically, of course) on what she'd said. I also got to watch her use the program—a walkthrough where the usability professional is in complete thrall to the user. And I couldn't ask her any questions, which was probably the most painful part of the whole experience.
Like most medical software, she would click on various elements to bring up complex, data-driven charts and other unique features—such as an application that let you take photos of your teeth with a tiny little handheld camera on a stick, then plug them into a dental chart. It was like a maze of wires hidden inside a plain cardboard box.
When we were finished, I went to the front desk to give them my insurance information. This screen was on their computer:
While every bone in my designer's body is screaming that this is an example of really inefficient UI—the application's growth is completely limited by what real-world data can be squeezed into the picture, and clicking on any one thing opens up a modal dialog box with extraordinarily complex functionality jammed into it—I have to ask you the following question...
Is there an efficiency gained in reflecting back to the actual patient, as opposed to the user, this interface? Is there a cost that the dental practicioner should bear, as a user that must comfort their client through trying circumstances, to reduce any possible appearance of difficulty or complexity?