When design doesn’t work

Photo by Edho Pratama on Unsplash

This year World Usability Day was a bit different for me. I participated as a speaker in this 2-day event organized by Centro de Computação Gráfica from the University of Minho (http://wud.eventos.ccg.pt/) within the subject of “Designing for Good or Evil?”.

The idea of the presentation came from my experience as a designer, along the last 8 years dealing with the end-users, clients, and stakeholders. My goal was trying to highlight the importance of Designing for Good showing what happens when the Design is Evil for the User.

So, what happens when Design doesn’t work?

First, I would like to share some thoughts about what really is ‘to Design’?
People tend to see design as an aesthetic attribute. They usually refer to an object as saying — ‘Oh it’s a beautiful design!’. Actually, when referring to a product that has a bad or good design, most people are saying that the product is bad because is ugly and good because is beautiful.

So, what Design really is?

“It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs

I really like this definition of design by Steve Jobs because it shows that design is also about functionality, not only aesthetics.

On the other side, design binds so many different disciplines like psychology, ergonomics, visual arts, interaction, development, economy, sociology and many more…because we, as designers, need to know about humans and society to design better and we need also to know how to work within multidisciplinary teams.
Regarding this, a few years ago I made my own definition of design:

“For me, good design is a solution that combines technology, usability, user needs, and visual arts to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.” — Dizparada

But for this presentation, I brought a simpler but powerful definition of Design:

“Good design is invisible.” — Dieter Rams

With this definition, Dieter Rams brought the idea that people really don’t see design happening when the design is good. So for example, when you notice that space has an air conditioner is because it isn’t working well probably.

So, regarding this observation we can say that — Design has an impact on people’s lives.

Because I am a Digital Product Designer, I am more concerned about the experience around digital supports like ‘smartphones, tablets, and desktop devices. I’ve heard many times expressions like: “I’m not a techie”“I’m not a computer person” or “I am bad at technology”.
In fact, computers are still ambiguous to some Users, and because of that people tend to have different behaviors when comparing a relationship human vs human to a human vs machine. So for example, if humans tend to blame others for something wrong that happens in the case of computers it’s different. When dealing with computers people tend to blame themselves if they can’t work with the UI or the machine.

Actually, if the UI is beautiful people act like they were obligated to know how to use it — Aesthetic and usability effect

There’s a cliché that says that ‘people don’t like changes’ and regarding digital devices, there’s no difference. So when something changes on the UI people start to blame themselves for not being able to figure out changes on their own. People have difficulty adapting — They feel excluded.

Nowadays, one of the most common things that happen using smartphones is that we receive an important notification and then we go check the Twitter feed and then another message on Whatsapp and then the Instagram feed and then Facebook page of a restaurant and so on…The Users start by having a task to complete and then this task is followed by a series of unplanned interactions. — Vortex effect.
When noticing these Users start to feel lost, unproductive, and wasting time.

This feeling of loss remains also when the User interacts with dark patterns.
Dark patterns aim to force some action that the Users won’t be able to ignore or refuse intuitively. — Dark patterns are UIs that are crafted to make users interact in a specific manner.

To finish the presentation, I brought a real-life case about Jenny.
Jenny was a child at the hospital. Jenny had cancer and her treatments were so aggressive that she needed to be hydrated before and after the treatments. But one day, after one of the treatments and when the nurses did the shift change, they didn’t notice that Jenny needed to be hydrated.
By the way, that was the UI symbol that the nurses needed to pay attention to.

We all know how this story ends.
This was just a tragic real-life example that I took here to say that Design is important and Good Design can really make a difference.

Actually, people tend to give more relevance to negative experiences instead of positive or neutral ones. So if we (designers) don’t remember this maybe they only use our design once.

So, as some big steps, we need to take for our profession I say that we (as designers’ need to start to see design as a mission because maybe we can’t save the world but maybe we can save the day of someone that is using something that we have designed. Also, we need to explain more what a designer really does to our colleagues and to our parents, and we need to tell people where we can help (as designers).

Originally published in Medium