Christian Ross

Designing for the User

Contrary to popular belief, there is some thought process and logic behind what I do. Yes, my job is still to make you look better; please let me continue to do my job. But in the process of making you look better I have to bear in mind that the prettiest option may not always be the best for your user.

Notice I didn’t say what was the best option for you. The problem is many times that you are too close to your product/service/brand to understand how others interact with it. Just because you like purple and gold doesn’t mean that 95% of your clientele does. Or the fact that you don’t want a website to scroll horizontally on your screen but you refuse to move your resolution up from a 800*600 pixel scree. I can think of 3-4 clients right off the bat that have had to overrule quality design decisions just because their wife/mother/spouse/other relative doesn’t like green (or any other color, button style or image).

Interaction Design (IxD) is the discipline of designing a system that a user can interact with. In English, it’s designing with the user in mind. It can apply to software design, website creation, mobile phone interfaces and even electronic devices. It’s all around you every day and depending on how well it was thought of and taken into consideration will tell a lot about how (and how often) you’ll interact with that product.

If I design a website with navigation that moves from one section to another every 10 seconds, you wouldn’t stay very long. And though the client might think it was ‘cool’ or ‘advanced,’ his sales would fall sharply, no question. An extreme example I know, but what about smaller things that you might not notice or think about?

What do you expect a website to do when you’re visiting and decide to click on their logo? Especially one at the top of the page? Or what about links? Have you ever visited a site where you have trouble distinguishing a text link from page content? Buttons? When you click on a button does it give you some sort of user feedback? Change of color? A depressed look? A border? A shadow? If not, how do you know you pushed it?

And what about other devices? Do the devices you deal with everyday provide quality interaction? On your phone (especially those with PDA’s) can you add an attachment directly from your email client or do you have to go to your pictures first and click on one to send to a new email message? Or what about sending more than one image at a time from the gallery of pictures? Even a superpower of Interaction Design, Apple, doesn’t always get it right. On my iPhone I can’t copy and paste anything. Sad. I can’t send MMS (text messages to multiple people or with attachments) either. Both of which I could do on my previous phone.

Designing with the user in mind is a huge step in the process of web development. And many times it goes unnoticed. Ever visit ebay, GoDaddy or Craigslist? All are pretty atrocious examples of companies who don’t care much about their user experience.

These thoughts all came about after several reminders of poor user interaction with one of my wife’s grooming devices. Part of design interaction is the feedback you receive as a user of a device (an no, I’ve never used the device in question). The following device sits on our guest bathroom counter most days and is used almost daily by my wife. I don’t actually know what it is called nor what it is actually used for but I do know it is for hair and that it must be plugged in to work.

When you plug it in to turn it on, a light comes on to warn users that the device is on and possibly very hot. This is good interaction design, it keeps the user informed of what is happening with the device. But when you turn the device off and leave it plugged in it has a second light that comes on. In my opinion, this is where the device and it’s creator have failed. When turning off a device, users expect it to turn off – lights included. This would be the equivalent of me turning off my radio and it changing stations for me. Bad IxD.

I don’t notice the problem that often when the bathroom light is on but as I step out and turn off the light I notice the device every time. And every time I have to stop and make sure it is off. Bad IxD.

When more developers (of all products) take users into mind during design and development phases of their product, we will all benefit. In reality, when IxD is done right we notice very little because everything works the way it should.

Designing a website isn’t just about matching reds, greens, and blues or making sure your grid is lining up or your code validates; it’s also about making sure you develop the best experience possible for your potential client.

And, as always: My job is to make you look better, let me do my job.

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