THERE IS MORE TO DESIGN THAN JUST MAKING THINGS SEXY

There is a misconception out there when people refer to design as a tool or a process of making things look sexy. Where I work, I have these conversations all the time:

“Let’s focus on functionality first and then worry about the make up, look and feel and all other sexy stuff later (referring to design)”

“You don’t understand. Our customers are the big businesses, they do not care about pretty buttons or sleek interface. They are old people who just want to come to the site and place their orders. They don’t care. Why bother?”

I see how functionality or “making-things-work” mentality is being prioritised as those are the obvious money makers. If I can’t enable a payment option, the customers will not be able to pay for the service. If I can’t even project the right numbers on the invoice, I will not even think about design. Our systems are complex, we need to focus on making things work first. Hence, design has been under-appreciated, neglected and left out of the process for far too long.

Today, the companies that incorporate design at the heart of everything they do see design as a true differentiator. Not only do they incorporate design in their products or services, they also put designers at the first steps of product development, they dedicate the whole department for designers and they have Chief Experience Officer who champions design at the Board level. It is not just trendy to do so. Those companies know that design is more than just the process of making things look sleek and sexy.

They know that

design solves problems

And here is how.

I share three simple reasons why design solves problems, drawing simple everyday life examples where good design has solved your problems or where bad design has failed you miserably.

  1. Good design makes things obvious

Let’s take the famous example used by a cognitive scientist, Don Norman in his book “Design of Everyday Things”. Doors.

How many designs of the doors have you seen? Let’s take a look.

Way too many.

Why does a product, so simple in its functionality can be so complicated? Today, whenever faced with doors we are often left confused: do I push, pull, swing, slide left or right, wait, jump or dance in front of it? The age of technology has not come to the point where we need to use our voice or blink to open the doors, imagine how hard it will be then. A well designed product should not be labelled with actions the user needs to take. Even when it is being labelled, we still make mistakes. It is not because we don’t know what push or pull means. It is because of its design.

Let’s take a closer look.

Such design of the handle invites you to pull it, yet you would need to slide to open the doors.

A well designed door would not need any labels, because its design is obvious.

2. Good design makes us think less

Shower. Every one of us showers at least once a day (supposedly).

Think of shower, the place where your brain switches off and relaxes itself after a long day. You come into a shower of a new place (your friend’s shower, hotel or a new country) and it takes you few seconds or minutes to figure out how to use it. Why is it so?

Again, similar to doors, design of showers has never been standardised which messed up your mental model and it’s reached its level of being overly complicated.

Good design does not rely on our memory of how things should work. Good design does not make us think.

You can read “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug if you want to learn more.

3. Good design helps us accomplish our goals

Apple, as a company that prides itself in creating great customer experience, is the first to charge their products fully before they ship to stores.

Imagine days before Apple, tech geeks would go to the electronic shops to get the latest trendiest phones, mp3 players and cameras. They come home all excited and black screen stares at them. Before these products can be used, they had to charge the devices for a full day. Excitement drops and the joy of testing your new toy is now delayed to the next day. Apple has noticed that and went to their factories and spent additional 3 hours on each device to ensure full battery on the shelves. Unlike other manufacturers that are just eager to ship their products quickly to the market, Apple spent more money, time and effort into making a customer experience more seamless. Guess what? Apple’s approach was soon replicated by many other retailers until it has become the industry standard or customers’ expectation.

Good design makes your whole experience seamless. It saves you time and effort and maximises your joy and excitement.

I deliberately did not take any examples of the virtual digital world that we are sucked in because I wanted to emphasise that design is not just a sleek interface, a sexy color combination or a nice typography, it also exists in the physical touch points in our every day life.

While everything you see has been designed by someone, not everything has been designed well.

To conclude,

Good design is expected
Good design is unnoticeable
Good design is not questioned

Design is only noticeable when things go wrong. People question why something is so hard to use. Every single one of us had our moments when we could not fix the fridge, fix the washing machine, understand how lighting works or simply how to turn on a rice cooker.

It is ironic how everything has been designed, but not everything has been designed with humans in mind. Thus the field Human Centred Design was born.

I will leave you with one last thought. When you feel a tiny frustration, anxiety or annoyance in the process of using a product or a service, ask yourself: why?

And I bet you that there is a 99% chance that is because of a bad design.


If this post got you hooked into design, you can read “Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman to learn more.

Also, share your example of a poorly designed product or service below.

Why I share this? My aspiration is people like you will start to appreciate design and start to think of incorporating design in everything you do to make the world a tiny bit easier and a bit more enjoyable to live in.


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