Good Design is …

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Just got done watching the independent film Objectified, which deals with industrial design and it got me thinking on what makes good design. For me, good design is …

Good design is intentional.
Good design is whimsical.
Good design is emotional.
Good design is subtle.
Good design is functional.
Good design is empathetic.
Good design is inviting.
Good design is clear.
Good design is forgiving.
Good design is proactive.

Of course good design is much more than this and means something different for everyone. I thought I would start with these as a sounding board and checklist for when I come up with the designs of products I work on.

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Designing For Non-Technies and Neophytes

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I have recently had the great fortune and pleasure of observing non-techies and neophytes use new software and it’s been an eye opening experience. Web designers who have been around software applications and the web for ten years develop certain assumptions about their users that may prove hazardous to their web app if their target users are supposed to be non technical or non web savvy users.

Here are some real life stories based on my first hand observations.

Story 1

I once had to perform a martial arts demonstration that was choreographed to music. I brought the music on my iPod. Prior to the demo, I gave my iPod to the sound technician and the MC. The iPod was set to the specific playlist and all they had to do was to hit Play when we bust out on stage. Apparently I had not counted on the fact that neither person had ever operated an iPod before and had no idea what to make of the click wheel. You could say that they must have been living under a rock for the last 10 years but I disagree. They weren’t stupid people either. One was an engineer and the other person was in the financial sector and had an MBA. Apple fanboys will argue me to death about the fact that Apple products are super easy to use. They might be once you learn how to use it but for a first timer with no instructions I think Apple devices can be quite cryptic.

Story 2
I observed a 10 year SaaS CEO and a software engineer use a particular website with much struggle and frustration. The software was supposed to be geared towards non-technical people but it was riddled with icons void of accompanying text descriptions. Neither of the users knew where anything was or what anything meant. The SaaS CEO who was used to Windows exclaimed that the software was full of Apple icons – confusing the use of icons for the Apple design sensibility.

I think these stories are indicative of a larger phenomenon. Designers who have been accustomed to the web and some of the UI affordances are making assumptions about certain user experiences.

Take for example this screenshot of Twitter for iPad. On the bottom left we see two icons. As a veteran web user and an interface designer, I immediately recognize that the two icons mean New Message/Compose and Settings.

However, I think that’s a pretty big leap for someone who’s not a web savvy user to assume that they know what those icons mean. I think UI designers can get too clever and do their audience a major disservice when they start making such assumptions about what icons their audience ought to recognize without further explanation.

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Minimalism in Web Design

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As web designers we must resist the urge to keep adding. Clients often want more features and we struggle with how to do that tastefully, and in a user friendly manner. We also want to make our designs “prettier” by adding more “stuff” to it. This tidbit of advice from Coco Chanel for women resonates with me as a designer.

Do the hair. Do the makeup. Get yourself fully dressed and then, before walking out the front door, pause by the mirror and remove one item. Maybe it’s the hat. Maybe it’s the piece of jewelry you really don’t need. But the line, according to Ms. Chanel, between knockout and near miss could be found in a single overdone object.

link here

With that in mind, I’ve started to really think about the current project I am working on and what I can remove.

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How Fast Food Packaging Should Be Designed

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I’ve been on a documentary kick lately. I just saw shows like Super Size Me, and Killer at Large: Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat. I think childhood obesity is a big issue that won’t go away easily. Companies are bombarding kids with messages that undermine parents. So my views on the subject matter is a bit colored.

food_packaging

I’m a big fan of using design to solve problems and using infographics to educate or simplify messages. Here’s my take on how fast food packaging should be designed. I put this rough mockup together in a few minutes, but hopefully the point gets across. However I doubt that fast food companies would actually implement this as it wouldn’t be in their best interest to do this.

I was inspired by the ClearRX system designed by a visual arts grad student for Target prescriptions.

Another source of inspiration is the Steve Jobs presentation style. His messages are clear and concise. For example, he doesn’t say how many gigabytes an iPod has, because it’s too abstract. What does that mean to the users? An iPod can store 10,000 songs. That’s relevant to the consumers.

So putting the caloric information in terms that people would understand was important. My thought was that if people understood that eating this portion of fries equated to having to run on the treadmill for over half an hour, that is more tangible that 380 calories. What does that even mean 380 calories?

Slideshare is also a great resource for finding inspiring and well designed presentations. I’m also a big fan of the Nancy Duarte school of presentation design. She’s the person responsible for designing Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth presentation.

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Concept UI: iPad Curved Keypad

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With all the buzz going on with the release of Apple’s new iPad – a multitouch tablet computer, my friend Scott Robbin came up with a keyboard concept that he believes is an improvement from what Apple is offering. I thought it was a great idea because made the tablet work like a blackberry almost. You used your thumbs to enter the key strokes as opposed to hunting and pecking with one hand while holding the iPad with the other. It also had the advantage of not obstructing the center with your hands or the keyboard.

ipad

However I thought that Scott’s concept, as well as the original iPad soft keyboard have limitations of their own, namely that both require you to use both hands. Scott’s post sparked my own idea of a soft keyboard that would require only one hand to operate.

iPadConcept

You’ll have to forgive the actual design, but I whipped it together in a few minutes using the Shear filter in Photoshop. The point is that the curved keypad allows you to use your thumb to type while holding the iPad with the same hand. This way, you use the iPad on the train or bus if you had to hold onto the railing. Naturally if you were left handed, you could flip the keyboard to the other side.

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