post post Apr 28, 2015

Walling off the Garden - Balancing Security with Usability

How suggestions to literally wall off a garden reinforced my perspective on the balance of security and user expereince.

by Greg Robleto

Walling off the Garden - Balancing Security with Usability

These past two weekends I was working in my new backyard with my wife on a square-foot garden. I bought all the materials, assembled the frame, poured the mix and planted the seeds. It was good to do something analog for a change, but as a user experience designer, the metaphor of the walled garden bot me thinking, especially as neighbors asked how I planned to keep out the rabbits and the deer.

“Well,” I replied to multiple neighbors in separate but identical conversations, “the yard if already fenced in, so I figure that should be okay.” Sounded like a solid answer, not conclusively confident, but indeed the whole yard is fenced, a deer would have to jump over the fence, a rabbit find a hole in the fence which I recently mended, (and never have I felt more like a cowboy than literally mending fences).

But some neighbors insisted, that deer will jump right over the 4-ft high fence… so what am I going to do? Nothing.

Suggestions are made to put up mesh nettings, coverings, other options to secure the garden. I smile and politely offer to consider that, but as I do am becoming more aware I am being offered solutions where there isn’t yet a problem.

I grant you, working in Washington DC, a lot of my local colleagues do not have the luxury of their sites or services waiting until there is a problem. Having build financial tools regulated by FINRA and the SEC that invest hard-earned dollars, I know first-hand there are times and places when security is paramount and to be achieved as a top priority. But my garden is not FINRA-regulated.

It’s true at some point I may have to fence off the garden itself, or cover it with a mesh netting, but there hasn’t been yet any reason to do so. No threat has been posed and there is not yet any proof yet that the exterior fence isn’t deterrent enough.

Meanwhile, you know who would be deterred from a complex netting or covering, the gardeners, my wife and I. We are new to gardening, it’s already not part of our routine, so to overcomplicate the experience of enjoying the garden, of picking the ripe vegetables because they are behind a barricade of my own devising, would be a critical misstep would cause us to lose interest and the vegetables to rot under their mesh netting.

People think user experience is about aesthetics and that isn’t untrue, and some wire/mesh covering on the garden is certainly uglier than not having one, but moreover design is about psychology and making the experience enjoyable and simple makes it more likely be to adopted. Being secure against risk has the double-edge of making a site secure against adoption.

It reminds me of a true-ism that I’ve reflected on many many times when thinking about this subject: “The most secure home has no doors and no windows.” Sounds very very safe, but I wouldn’t want to live there. How would I ever get out back to my new garden?