Design Fails When it Requires Us To Start Over

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Whilst looking at a pile of failed devices that ‘will change the way you work’. I realized that was the reason they failed. They required me to change the way I work to suit them rather than the other way around.

Can I do this without reading the instructions?

Over the years I have tried many different devices for many different things, a fair amount of which never made it past the testing or Beta stage. It was not because they were bad ideas, it was because they required the user to shift their usage and interaction pattern. This rarely ends well.

The problem you see is this. Users rarely embrace change or a shift in their thought and usage patterns. Take the computer, for example, we still use keyboards and we still use mice. Why? Because they work and most people immediately know how to use them.

This is also why touch devices like Tablets, Phones, and screens also work well in a mass market, users immediately know how to use them. The learning and adjustment curve is very minor, therefore they are accepted by a large market.

The same works for say a Coffee machine, water goes in one end, you place some coffee in the machine, put a cup underneath or a Carafe and hit a button. Minutes later, there is your coffee. Simple, effective and expected.

The best application of user experience is when it requires little to no shift in the way a user thinks about and interacts with a product

When it comes to software we have the same guiding principles that must be followed. I have seen some stunning interfaces that totally failed as products because the user just could not adapt to an obscure way of working. Whilst esthetics, beauty, and visual delight are important to a product, the underlying and overriding factor must be usability and comfort. Without those, a user will eventually get tired of fighting to learn how to use something and move on.

A perfect set of examples are how many to-do and writing applications there are now. Every one of them thinking they have solved the problem and given the user the perfect experience. Yet many failing to deliver on the promise of simplicity and the ability to actually help you produce better work (if any at all). The over-bloated interface of Word throughout the years is a perfect example, although credit to Microsoft who eventually realized this problem and solved it with simplification.

The best application of user experience is when it requires little to no shift in the way a user thinks about and interacts with a product. Think back to every time you open one of those flat-pack self-assembly furniture items and see all the steps in the construction papers. The first thing you think is ‘can I do this without reading the instructions?’ Like it or not, that is how users will see your application. They will always want to dive right in.

A guiding rule I have always used is to give the user the possible options have at that moment in time and nothing else. Putting every possible tool or icon on the screen all the time is not only going to give the user less screen space, but also make them feel like they need to know what every one of those options does.

For example, if you are in a dialog to open a document, the last thing you should give the user the ability to do is to share something from that dialog on a social network. But, you do want to give them the option to also create a new document as well as open one.

Hopefully, these thoughts have triggered some responses or ideas for you, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, I always read and reply when time permits.