June 14, 2013

Make your design functional

Design is hard. Making design work well is even harder.

Being completely enveloped in the wide world of web design has made me rather comfortable with being a critic of not only design decisions of others, but a harsh critic of what I produce.

It's incredibly comforting to know that this dilemma is not just ours to suffer with. Stepping away from the internet and taking the time to examine just how other industries face the same issues.

How often does one walk into a friends home and have a hard time figuring out which switch turns on the bathroom light, and which handles the fan? How often does one have to apologize for accidentally turning on the garbage disposal in the middle of the night? This is just one simple example of poor user experience design that we face on a frequent basis.

A recent, and more apparent personal experience has really got my thoughts racing whenever Photoshop is launched.

I was recently tasked with selling off a handful of power tools that we'€™re idling in my parent's€™ garage. One of these items was a relatively new Ridgid Compound Miter Saw. It's a saw. It cuts things precisely. It serves a single purpose. How can this possibly relate to the topic at hand?

Soon after the ad went up on Craigslist, I had a potential buyer come by to take a look. I had rolled it out, plugged it in, and told him to go at it to make sure it was worth his money. It was in that moment that I realized that "€œUser Experience"€ goes well beyond what I do in my field.

The man, who clearly knew how miter saws function, was having a hard time figuring out why his interactions were doing nothing to allow him to tilt the head and rotate the table. After several attempts, he looked to me for help.

Levers and knobs that are standard on all other miter saws, and have been for the better part of a decade, have been replaced with aesthetically pleasing levers, and nondescript rotational locks. While looking great in their orange and grey, an experienced user needed to re-learn how this device functions.

The team at Ridgid was faced with the dilemma we face on a regular basis: use conventions, or make it look pretty. In their eyes, the design outweighed standards used by their predecessors and current competition.

The miter saw was sold that day, but the lesson I learned will stick with me for years to come.

Design is important. We as a global web community need to continue pushing the boundaries of design. Instead of criticizing Jonathan Ive over the look of icons used in a beta version of iOS7, let's focus our attention on making design work well.