Stop trying to design experiences and start designing products | March 21, 2011
The architect Frank Lloyd Wright famously told a customer to move their table when they complained that water was leaking from the ceiling when they ate dinner. This is almost certainly apocryphal but hints at the ego of the experience designer. Well tell our users and customers what experience they are going to have (sometimes based on research) but they have to live with the results.
In an agency centric world which I come from, designers are used like Cruise missiles. The target is acquired and we fire and forget. Rarely if ever do we get the opportunity to cycle back to see if the target turned out to be a hospital rather than a barracks. We also don’t get the opportunity to pick through the rubble. Agency design is therefor a blunt weapon and a weapon of force.
Over the years I’m becoming more and more convinced that we’re doing things wrong. That our values around interaction and interface design are skewed. That we’re constantly trying to create the platonic ideal of a chair rather than trying to design a comfortable seating experience.
Why is it that ugly websites can prosper while beautifully designed experiences lack use? Are we focussing on the wrong part of the value chain? Maybe it’s an issue of content strategy? As Karen McGrain says, maybe we’re spending our time designing the paths between a garbage tip, rather than sorting out the garbage itself. Maybe we’re the architects designing a new museum with no thought to the artefacts which will lie within?
I hear many designer bemoan the use of statistics, citing that it somehow takes their creativity away. This can be true if taken to an extreme. After all none of us want to work in an environment where every design decision gets second guessed and tested. However there needs to be balance.
Designing a perfect digital product involves a certain level of faith and artistry. However it’s not an artistic pursuit. Instead I see design more like the unravelling of a mystery. You need to have some hunches and show some big leaps of faith based on prior experience. However it’s not about the individuals skill. Good designers can, and often do, make bad products. Conversely, technically bad designers have been behind some of the most successful web sites out there.
One thing I think we need to do as an industry is to stop focussing on the big, one off products and focus on long lasting customer engagements. However we can’t do that without the help of our clients. Instead of fire and forget, we need to launch our design offensive and then constantly course correct along the way. This involves checking the success of our sites through sales and analytics, coming up with hypothesise about what isn’t working and what can be improved, and then tweaking as we go. Sometimes these changes can be intellectual, while at other times they have to be behavioural. I don’t know which headline or button copy is going to be most effective. I can guess, but my first guess probably isn’t going to be right. So don’t design around your own ego and take nothing on face value. Design, measure, iterate and test should be our new mantra.
Posted at March 21, 2011 2:37 PM