Keeping Design in Mind

As consumers, we have particular needs for good design. Whether or not we realize it, design is definitely part of how and why we purchase products. It has a functional and aesthetic purpose, and consumers notice good, quality design just as much as bad design.

A few years ago, Shawn introduced my team to a great documentary called Objectified, by filmmaker Gary Hustwit. It’s an inspirational film that made me start looking at design differently. For example, think about the potato peeler in your kitchen. What does the handle look like? Does it curve to your palm or is it just a wooden stick glued to the end? How is the blade designed? How easy or difficult is it to use? These questions lead to what I consider most critical: What are some of the ways the design could be improved to do the job faster, easier, and better? If we understand that good design considers these questions (and more!) then we’re thinking like good designers.

When I look at products I use everyday, I think about what makes them well or poorly designed. Some of my favorite technology products are designed by Apple. One of the things I love most about my iPad, my iPod and my iPhone is how well they work together: consistency in form and function. Their competitors, you may have noticed, often compare themselves to Apple in advertisements and commercials- hyping up new features, bells and whistles.


Designing Mobile Devices



But consider this: In 2005, Kathy Sierra wrote a blog about how more features in a product produce diminishing returns. She called it “The Featuritis Curve” and described how the right number of features can help users feel like superstars, but too many features can deplete their confidence.


The Featuritis Curve


The reason? Features don’t make a product great. Design does.

So if more features aren’t the answer, how do designers improve products? Design is ever-changing and iterative. Think about the evolution of automobiles and how interiors are designed; you’ll see dramatic changes have taken place in a relatively short amount of time.

Take audio, for example. First, AM/FM was a cool option on most cars. Then came 8-track players. Next were cassette decks and then CD players, sometimes a combination of both. The most recent changes transformed the way we control sound in the car. First, designers realized that reaching over to the dashboard was inconvenient and possibly a hazard to the driver, so they put the volume control on the steering wheel.

These sound and audio developments culminated with the popularity of mp3 players. They brought USB ports to car dashboards and center consoles. But they brought back the problem of hands-on control of a device that could be a distraction. So now, you have voice control. “Play Adelle 21.” Bam – your music comes out of your eight speakers, hands-free.

Changing needs of consumers coupled with the desire to increase safety have brought about constant improvements to the design.

When I think about software design, I know I have to keep the needs of the consumer —and all that entails – in mind. I ask a lot of questions: What has changed about consumers’ habits and needs? What would make it easier for consumers to complete this process? What information do they need to provide? Could we auto-complete data or assume anything based on their previous answers to questions?

Good design changes constantly – if it doesn’t, it ceases to be good design. It becomes a potato peeler with a wooden handle and a dull blade. Designing with the consumer in mind, we can innovate much farther than that!