Usability, user experience, design thinking, emotional design… The realm of user-centered design has exploded in the last decade with the advancement of technology. However, designers and marketers often see the connection between the user and development of the end product as a linear process that stops at the purchase. The result is a bad design created with good intentions. Truly good design incorporates behaviour and cognition, from start to finish, in a cyclical fashion.
The Downside of Bad Design
Bad design has always been a serious problem Famed information architecture theorist Eric Reiss doesn’t call it bad design, however. He uses a different term:
“In the strictest sense of the term, design dissonance often relates to usability—when a design somehow pushes a user in the wrong direction, in terms of both understanding and action. But in a broader sense, design dissonance can create disappointment, particularly when it occurs in relation to a service” (Reiss, 2013).
Don Norman, the father of emotional design, has noticed a wide range bad designs. But more disturbingly, he has noticed users tolerate the flaws. In fact, they often don’t see them as flaws at all. Users blame themselves for being dumb or inattentive. Or, they blame fate for the mistake (Norman, 2002; Norman, 2004). They might seem simple enough, but the consequences can result in more than just a chuckle. As Reiss and Norman both mention in their writings, errors can be deadly and result in plane crashes and nuclear disasters.
Thinking beyond behaviour and how people use a product.
I believe the answer to better adoption of a product and better design overall is to consider the user throughout the entire process. Designers need to consider the driving forces behind behaviour and how various cognitive processes affect interaction with a product. This is particularly true for technology and software.
Seven Big Steps to Better Design
Usability begins with the driving forces behind behaviour. It starts with considering the cognitive processes of users and other stakeholders. Then, after the product is in use, the information and feedback collected can help enhance behaviour or encourage adoption in others. Therefore, I propose a seven step process:
Step 1 – Attitude – How users implicitly and explicitly see an object, industry or idea. It’s a main driving factor behind behaviour. Designers need to consider how potential users will see the product, but also how they’ll use it and view the results going forward. For example, how much control do users want over a product? How much privacy do they require from their software? Or, do they simply want the illusion of privacy?
Step 2 – Strength – For attitude to affect behaviour, it needs to be strong enough. While designers can’t embolden user attitudes toward an object, they can make use of the factors behind it and work with stakeholders to get the most from their products. Designers may want to reassure those afraid of a loss of privacy with additional security measures, for example.
Step 3 – Behaviour – How users interact with a item, and how the item interacts with users, are major components of good design. The science behind errors, mapping, expectations, feedback, and control are just a few of the psychological sectors that come into play.
Step 4 – Models and Mapping – Designers, companies, marketers, and end users all create models and maps of an object and how it should work. Unfortunately, they’re not all the same. Being aware of these maps and identifying when to cater to the various requirements is vital for a successful design.
Step 5 – Hardware (Object Exterior) – Whether it’s a new smartphone or hand mixer, the look, feel, operation, and constraints of an object’s exterior are just as important as what goes on under the hood. Every element from colour and shape, to labels and semiotics, should match the behaviours and needs of users.
Step 6 – Software (Object Interior) – The inner-workings of an object. Today, this is likely software or computer-like device, but it could also be the basic mechanics that make an object work. In terms of software, this would not only be the coding that makes the program work, but also the buttons, sounds, affordances, feedback, and other details that a user interacts with.
Step 7 – Feedback and Behaviour Dependant Design – The explicit and implicit information given by the user, other systems, and other stakeholders can be advantageous for designers as well as users. Collecting the right data, at the right time, and using it in the right way, can completely change the concept of a design.
While the process appears to end at step 7 (and it might) for many designers, it shouldn’t. Without seeing this as a cyclical and never ending process, errors and poor usability take over, and inevitably, they’ll “probably [win] a design award” (Norman, 2002), but not be good for much else.
(1) Reiss, E. (2013, February 4). Design Dissonance: When Form and Function Collide. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2013/02/design-dissonance-when-form-and-function-collide.php (Back to Top)
(2) Norman, D. A. The Psychology of Everyday Things. Basic Books, New York, 1988. (Back to Top)