Ferran Adria on Web Usability

Yesterday, Mrs. Inferno and I (courtesy of my gracious cousin Jamie) took a day trip down to the Google campus in ???? Mountain View to sample some of the cheap MLB jerseys fine, free food and to listen to a talk given by Ferran Adria, the chef who’s usually credited with kicking off the whole Molecular Gastronomy/Postmodern Cuisine/Mr. Марацци Wizard Meal movement.  Adria talked quite a bit about the unique nature of haute cuisine vis-à-vis artistic a creativity, which had a couple of interesting parallels and contrasts to the world of software development.  

For instance, his restaurant, El Bulli, changes its menu annually.  At the end of each season, the creative team gets together to review all of the dishes they created in the previous year in order to learn from their experiences.  Sounds a lot like a retrospective, doesn’t it?  Of course, the goal of this review is a lot different than a software-development retrospective due to the emphasis on creating something new every year.  Where a software team would try to enumerate the successes of the past and repeat them in the future,  there’s an explicit desire to avoid repeating anything in the past–even the dishes that have been successful!

Unfortunately, the talk started late and was given through a translator, so Adria didn’t really go into detail on this or any other particular point.  He did show a lot of amazing photos of the food at El Bulli, some videos showing a few of the preparation techniques they use, and another video of a couple eating a meal.  That video was really unusual because it focused almost exclusively on the faces of the people as they ate, cataloguing the range of expression from surprise and disbelief upon the first taste to beatific radiance when actually starting to enjoy the sensations provided by that bite.  Adria pointed out that you never really see people enjoying food like that in the movies… kind of like sex.  Or you see it, but it isn’t real.  This was definitely real, and yes, it felt a lot like watching porn.  Foodie porn.

Anyway, the presentation concluded with a question-and-answer session, and unfortunately nobody seemed to come up with a particularly memorable question.  Except for Mr. Adria, who apparently sensed a rare opportunity to wholesale NBA jerseys score a nickel’s worth of free advice.  He directed the technical crew to bring up El Bulli’s website on the screen and then pointed out the site map and asked the audience why websites (generally, I think, although he might have been talking specifically about his own) don’t show the site map as soon as you visit the site.  Everyone seemed at wholesale NBA jerseys a loss as to how to World respond–mainly, I guess, because there really isn’t a single answer.  For instance, the first thing you see on the El Bulli site is a page that forces you to choose a language.  The second thing you see is a pop-up window that showcases all of the books Adria has written about the cuisine at El Bulli, which he was quick to point out is necessary in order to make the enterprise as a whole financially viable. The site map is actually only available on the third page, and all of the links on that page pop up still more windows for each link you click.

In the end, one of the audience members ventured that nobody in the room disagreed with the notion of putting the site navigation in a clear and obvious location. Unfortunately, no one (myself included) felt brave enough to point out that on the El Bulli site, the implementation of language selection is unnecessarily obtrusive, the overall design of the site is awkward, cheap jerseys and that commercial considerations have obviously been given priority over usability.  Which is too bad, because I think Adria’s point was, “Can’t we do better than this?”

I think we can.

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