Thursday, August 2, 2007

Think Design - Live Design

The Adaptive Path folks are in the process of interviewing everyone who is presenting at UX week this year. Good stuff in general, but today it was Bill DeRouchey of Ziba Design and the History of the Button blog. Lots of good stuff, but he made one great point that is so obvious to me I never really formalized it, much less said it:
Interaction designers, of course, should be trying to deconstruct everything around them to better train themselves as interaction designers. And the fun thing about that is we’re completely surrounded by examples, it’s all the devices in our daily lives. It’s the cell phones, microwaves, ATM machines, computers, printers, and so on. We’re surrounded by buttons and icons and little blinky lights that can give us examples of how people think about devices and interaction design because there’s one thing that’s definitely true, people don’t approach the product from a void.
Since I am not sure everyone else does this, here's just six things I have done recently that inform my understanding of our world as an environment someone designed:
  • Note everything bad about the ATM interface. Is there any reason its bad? Are there any security flaws? Is a warning sticker the best way to inform users of a feature (envelopeless deposits)?
  • Compare and contrast pinpads. You know, the payment interfaces at stores. Why does the hardware store have one, but you cannot swipe? Why does Target think its a good idea to suck you card in? Why do almost none of the softkey devices use them, and none use them consistently? Why are they all so different?
  • Replace the mirror on my car, with a similar but not identical one from a junk yard. Figure out how the relevant pieces come apart. Figure out how to modify it without destroying the base object to fit the new part. Think about how the design is optimized for ease of factory assembly. Note the construction, materials, structure, wiring and assembly method and try to determine how much this influenced the layout of buttons and lights. Does there seem to be anything sub-optimal in the control placement that seems to arise from these considerations?
  • Build a birdhouse from materials on hand. Find the specifications (hole size, position, interior dimensions) for the type of bird. Consider environmental issues (outdoor use will be hard on the materials and construction). Make provisions for repair, ventilation, mounting.
  • Compare the manner in which the quick-start options work on the two microwaves at work, vs. the one I have at home. Why are they different? Which is better to me? Is it a result of habituation or is it truly easier to use?
  • Look at the way barricades and signage are placed for a construction zone. Is there a better way to route traffic? Is there a better way to label the change? Is it more confusing at night, or less?
What have you observed lately?

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