Designers don't (just) make things pretty

October 01, 2015

In some ways, this post is definitely a rant. It’s about being frustrated by (what seems like) an industry-wide misperception. As a designer, but my job isn’t to make things pretty. My job is to make sure users are delighted by the product, app, or website that I’ve worked on. It’s to make software that’s humanly relatable.

When a product works right, when it’s intuitive, when it looks good, I’ve done my job well, and so have the people I work with. When it does what people expect it to, and doesn’t lead them on. When that product surprises people (in a positive way). A final product that looks good is a part of this process, but it starts much deeper than that.

What sparked this rant? I recently heard someone say they only cared about “the pretty”, in reference to an application. This comment may have been made in ignorance, which in itself, I don’t view as that big of a problem. Ignorance can be rectified. Where the problem gets big is if we don’t teach—if we don’t try to elevate the understanding of the people that think this way. If this is the case, we haven’t considered the entire experience.

Getting the whole experience right

Getting the entire experience right doesn’t just mean a killer product that has value, is human centered, and looks incredible. If we get that part of design right, we’ve only done 50% of our job. The other 50% of our job is making sure our customers have an incredible experience (I’m definitely speaking here in terms of a services firm working with customers). And part of that experience is teaching them that the value of what we’re doing is beauty that’s more than skin deep.

I think Ikea’s flat-pack furniture is a perfect example of something that can have the experience of being halfway designed. The appearance and finished product is generally pleasing; however the experience of building and installing one of their items can make you want to punch yourself in the face. I can’t help but wonder if a 10% reduction in flatness, a slight reduction in how much effort is needed to assemble, would improve the product and experience by 200%. What would it be like if Ikea furniture was easier to build, instead of having better instructions?

I think that designers need to help their customers understand the value of sketching concepts. The value of creating copious amounts of wireframes. Of all the foun­dational work that’s part of making amazing things. Who else is going to do it? How else are they going to understand how much work it takes, and what the value of that work is?

One last note: I’m just as guilty as anyone else of doing too much doing, and not enough teaching. I’ve failed at this process in recent projects. But I want to do better, and this post is a part of that process.

End rant.