I recently came across an interview with a founder of a Southern California based design firm. The subject was excellent product design, “it’s about how the product makes a user feel” the designer answered to the question, “What makes an Excellent Product Design?”.
But should it? Should good design evoke an emotion or feeling to a user? Should good design smack us in the face? Or does good design fit seamlessly into our lives without us even knowing it?
Bad design is everywhere. You can probably think of a few off the top of your head now… the door that opens the wrong way (we call these Norman Doors), a faucet that doesn’t tell you which way to push or pull the lever for hot water (I have one of these, it drives me crazy). But can you tell me something that is well designed? I can tell you a few things that look good, but looking good isn’t good design.
Take the Norman Doors for example, a Norman Door is a door that gives the user the wrong indicator for its use. Like a pull handle on a door that pushes open. Good design is one that you walk through without even noticing it. And these things are everywhere. A light that you know how to turn on without thinking about it, is good design, does it make you feel something though? We shouldn’t need training to use our products, that’s not good design.
Take a coffee maker for example, if you reinvent how coffee brews and your user must be trained or the conditioning of making coffee adjusted, you’re doing it wrong. Keurig coffee makers are a perfect example of good design. Yes, they look good, but it’s how you use your Keurig that makes it well designed. You never had to be trained to know where to put the coffee pod, you already knew. It’s unnoticeable because it just works. It didn’t make you feel something, you got coffee and moved on without even noticing.
Anyone ever look at a MacBook Pro? You ever seen one asleep? How do you know when it’s asleep? Because there is a little light that blinks on the side of the case. The blinking pattern is good design. Until now you didn’t realize that that little blinking light was in the pattern of a sleeping baby. The slow blinks, the breathing in and out tells the user the machine is in sleep mode. Fast blinking would indicate a problem, slow intermittent blinking would indicate a low battery or a dyeing device.
I’m not trying to hammer this home or change anyone’s mind, but I am trying to help you understand that to design good products, we shouldn’t be hung up on the mundane details of a product that won’t matter in the long run. Yes be concerned with how a product looks, nobody wants ugly products, but unless it works or accomplishes the task, the product is a failure.
Good design should make our lives better, they should make our lives easier, but they shouldn’t smack us in the face.