Saturday, September 24, 2011

Good Design Is Not Hard

My first real post to this is going to discuss why good design isn't hard. Design endeavors go awry when those involved think that they know what people "want." This is why major corporations almost never manage good design, because the suits & ties that run them think that they know what people want. It's not that they think that they are artists or designers, although this is frequently a comorbid issue. When an executive thinks that he knows, all other considerations are thrown out the window.

Perhaps the greatest example of this is Dell vs. Apple. I'm sure Michael Dell wishes that this quote would just die, but in 1997, he said that if he was in control of Apple, he would liquidate the company. Today, Dell is possibly the least alluring name in the world of computers, while Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

The idiot suit & tie is an unfortunate side effect of a successful company. When times are good, there is little pressure to force out stupidity, and the true depths of their stupidity are only realized when the market dynamic has shifted, which is frequently enough to kill a company.

Apple is a startling example of what good design can do. And what they've done was not hard. I think the reason for Apple's rise was that Jobs came back humble. He was kicked out in the 1980's for being an arrogant prick, but returned after realizing that while an overarching philosophy could be directed by him, relying on the input of others was critical for ensuring the final product really kicked ass. He made no assumptions about his knowledge.

Good design is something that can be learned online. Spend a year reading design magazines and websites, construct an overarching philosophy that you want to follow, practice, and realize that the goal of design is the give the customer something that they want. There are lots of philosophies that can be followed, and as such providing "tips" on good design is pointless. It's like business books that purport to provide you with the skills and knowledge to succeed in business, and all they actually do is list a bunch of a success stories and say "do this."

My philosophy is one of quantifiable minimalism. Design attempts to achieve a goal, this goal can be measured quantifiably, and the goal should be met with as few elements as possible. What I mean by quantifiable is that when designing a thing you intend a person to use it. It can be anything. For example, a digital camera. Produce two versions of the camera and then give them out to test subjects and track the number of photos taken. The goal of a camera is to take photos and whichever design is used to take the most photos is the best design.

Focus groups are useless, but measurements of actual usage are not. Designing a button? Which design causes people to press it most often? Designing a window? Which design gets opened the most often? Anything with which a customer interacts can have that interaction measured. And any design which increases user interaction is the best design.

You'll notice an interesting advantage to this perspective, as a design, you don't even need to know why your design is good! Apple's design is great because it draws people to it. It makes people want to interact with it. Something about Apple design increases interaction because of ease, aesthetic, and its ineffable draw. It's the reason why Steve Jobs is so fond of describing experiences as magical. They are magical because people want to have those experiences over and over again. Why is this? How is this? You don't even need the answers. You can fake it! Just so long as the designs draw people in and encourage interaction.

Somehow, this concept is hard to get. Apple is one of the few companies out there that "gets it." Look at the competitors in the cell phone market. Look at RIM, Nokia, Samsung, LG, and HTC. It took them forever to stop designing total crap. Look at how many years it took competitors to stop designing beige boxes after Apple introduced the iMac. They did this because the executives, explicitly sometimes, believed that they knew what people wanted. And one would think, that eventually, someday, the executives would learn enough from the past to stop repeating it. That day has not yet come.

No comments:

Post a Comment