An example of the impact of design choices and the evolution of habits around them.
When we post a link on Facebook, it shows us a preview of that link right here in the feed before we even click on it. Can we imagine what the world would be like today if Facebook had never implemented link preview?
This was a design decision Facebook made in 2008 when people went beyond posting just status updates on their Facebook. The goal was to make it easier to see what the link points to so we can decide if it’s worth clicking.
Then over time we started to trust the headline, image, and description enough that we didn’t see much value in clicking on the link. We also started to see a lot more links in our feeds and we didn’t want to click on each one. Also, it is always gong to be faster to browse Facebook if we never clicked on any links. Especially within the apps. So it slows down our dopamine wagon when we click on a link and wait for a page to load and we don’t like to wait.
But when we stopped clicking on links, the producers of the content stopped getting traffic. So they started tweaking the headlines, images, and description to stand out more in your Facebook feed. FB initially allowed a lot of customization. e.g. The headline in the feed preview didn’t even have to match the headline on the web page. This accelerated the attention war – distortions and click bait were needed to counter our laziness to click on links within the Facebook feed. Also, Facebook always has a disincentive in helping us get off Facebook. So deep down it never really wants us to click on a link. Unless it’s sponsored and earns them revenue.
Over the last few years, we have stopped going to the sources of information directly. Everything comes curated from our social media feeds. But because of the added friction, the extra step of representation, and the more time we now spend inside apps, we are engaging with websites in a fundamentally different way than we used to.
What if today, just for a day, the link previewer in our Facebook feed stopped working. Look at your feed. Imagine no website previews. Just text links everywhere. Wouldn’t we automatically feel less stressed? Then we realize that’s why people like Instagram. No links ☺️
Many years ago I attended a talk by Jared Spool, where he introduced this way of thinking about design decision styles: 1. unintended design, 2. self design, 3. genius design, 4. activity-focussed design, 5. user-focused design. It resonated a lot with me and I find that awareness of this has helped me personally. It has often made it easier to get everyone on the same page and to make better decisions. I want to highlight this framework here in case someone else also finds it useful.
This is the undesigned stuff. No one sat down and decided this is how it should be. It just ended up being this way. And no one is empowered to optimize it yet. This is the ‘cheapest’ form of design style. Not having one 🙂
Unintended Design happens when the team focuses on the act of development and deployment without any consideration of what will happen when people try to use it. Not all unintended designs are bad—some can be quite usable. It comes down to a game of chance. (Think of the old maxim, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every so often.”)
This is when you decide you are the customer. You are designing for yourself and for people just like you. This is the fastest and cheapest way to get results from your design process as it can reduce a lot of overhead. But there’s a big risk to this style. Many people often realize too late that they are not the customer and that it’s easy to end up with blind spots. And the costs of recovering from those can be quite high.
It works best when the team members really are the primary users of the application. For example, many in-house bug tracking systems are self designed and quite good. They do exactly what the team needs without a lot of fuss.
This is a variation / evolution of the previous design style and it is a short-cut to the next design style. This style only works when the team members have prior experience designing for a problem in the same domain, similar user profiles, and have gone through the feedback loops, the bruises, the surprises etc and come away with real wisdom. This can work quite well, for example, in an agency that is focused on a vertical. But it’s important to have the humility to know when a design problem is different from prior expertise. However, this form of design can be efficient and cost effective whenever it can be used.
Genius design works well with very experienced team members. If you’ve already designed five different shopping carts, each complete with thorough research on the users and their scenarios and follow-up work to see how well the designs met expectations, then designing a sixth shopping cart without all that rigorous research will probably produce great results.
Let’s say we have no background in medicine. And we have to design a note-taking app for doctors. The way to build that out properly will be to first understand the tasks we are looking to enable / augment and to understand all the activities we are designing for. This requires investing in research and there is a higher cost associated with this style of design. It’s important to note, however, that doing this process several times over can then enable the Genius design style at some point.
Teams need this style when the activities are new or foreign to the team members, and can’t rely on their own experience, like when using the Genius Design style. Often the research utilizes activity-based techniques, such as workflow diagramming and task-based usability testing. These simple techniques can provide important insights that improve the design decisions.
This is the highest touch style of design. Here we go beyond the “what the user is trying to do?” and get into the “why?s”. We invest in understanding the holistic context of how the design fits in with the overall goals and needs of all the stake-holders. It helps unearth insights that would otherwise be impossible to know. It creates an opportunity to leapfrog the problems we are trying to solve for and come up with a design that is more powerful and longer-lasting than the previous style. e.g.
People bought the milkshake in lieu of a bagel or doughnut because it was relatively tidy and appetite-quenching, and because trying to suck a thick liquid through a thin straw gave customers something to do with their boring commute.
This design style is the high-end approach and is necessary if the team is looking to create an excellent experience overall. To do that, the team will use user-focused techniques, such as field research and robust persona creation, ensuring the team understands the contextual nature of the users’ experience.
The examples above lay out some of the pre-conditions that have to be met for a certain design style to be useful. In practice, I have found, that the styles often get mixed – sometimes even within the same project. It all depends on the overall complexity, the current focus, and opportunity costs of the reversible and irreversible decisions.
But being more consciously aware of the style being used can help avoid surprises and make teams more succesful.
Here’s a more recent example of what happens when the design process breaks down as incremental changes add up to larger problems that sometimes go undetected until it is too late.
The next 10yrs are going to disrupt a lot more things than anyone can imagine. Design already needs to use AI to keep up with the exploding contexts and use cases they find themselves designing for. This is an example of how previously career jobs are getting replaced with neural networks that can learn all the knowledge and implement newer solutions. Read on to learn more about this experiment.
‘Infrastructure’ is something whose value becomes apparent only when it breaks down. The developed world only notices electricity, water, Internet when the supply/service is disrupted.
30yrs ago, very few people used computers or the Internet. Today, almost all work is influenced/ affected by digital manipulation of data. It’s infrastructural. Humans add most value doing tasks that technology hasn’t quite figured out yet.
Over the next 10 years, almost everyone’s work will begin to be impacted/influenced by Artificial Intelligence. As jobs get smartened, automated, and scaled, human tasks will continue to shift more into newer, higher abstractions that were practically unreachable in the past.This is an example of how User Interface and Interaction design has moved from tangible interfaces (e.g. physical buttons), to mutable digital interfaces and gestures (displays and touch screens) and now to a deeply integrated partnership with Artificial Intelligence. Designers have to be skilled in understanding contexts and distilling down use cases. But now, Artificial Intelligence is beginning to be the only scalable way to keep up with and design for abundantly complicated contexts of rapidly evolving technology and increasing levels of customization. Traditional UI design is already getting outdated.
It’s always nice to use a product that manages to reimagine a product category and surpasses it.
WA state finally made Autosocks legal in 2012 and my wife and I were the first in line to get these. You can put them on in seconds with no effort, tightening, retightening etc needed. They work just as well as chains. You can plough through the snow. They have no metal on them. So no damage to the tires or to the roads. Been using these for two years now – there’s no real catch except you gotta take them off when there’s no snow – the hard dry road will do a number on them. But you shouldn’t be driving on dry road with any traction devices anyway.
I highly recommend the Autosock. Get them here (do check the tire size to get the right fit).
I was trying to buy the Surface and went to the Microsoft Store website. I had prior knowledge about the difference between RT and Pro so I knew which one to click on (I have read accounts of most people who are already confused at this point. But that is not what this post is about). For me the confusion started when I saw the options for the RT one. As you can see in the image below, the default option that was checked on that page was the 32 GB with Black Touch Cover for $599. Hmm, ok. Then my eyes wandered down to the Popular Add-ons section. The White one was selected by default but that showed up as out of stock. So I clicked on the Red one, and that one was available.
The interface is very non-obvious. Those two squares on the top, “ice” and “water”, have very strong button affordances but they are actually just labels. There is a lot of subtext trying to explain these discrepancies but as a user I conveniently ignored the text and did everything “wrong”. The “buttons” didn’t work, of course 🙂
Love the level of contextually in this experience. It knows where I am, knows when the flight arrives and knows what the traffic situation is like so I know the optimal time I should leave to pick her up.
Only thing to be added would be if it knew where my wife is and whether she made it to the flight or not etc. And if it synced with Tripit so I don’t have to add items manually.