Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Don't design in a box -- The give and take two step

Here's a concept that has been widely documented, but I feel like it's worth my two cents as well. The idea of designing in a box goes like this...

Let's say you have been asked to come up with a new design for a website's home page. Upon receiving the assignment, you go to your desk, you sketch some ideas, you iterate 3-4 thousand times on those ideas, then finally, you land on "THE" idea. You then take that design into high fidelity. Following that, you set up meetings with the executives and all the business stakeholders to reveal your masterpiece. You get to the meeting, look around and say to your self, "These people don't even have a clue how awesome this is going to be for them. They may even wet themselves a little like I did when I finished".

"Most digital products today emerge from the development process like a creature emerging from a bubbling tank. Developers, instead of planning and executing with a mind towards satisfying the needs of the people who purchase and use their products, end up creating technologically focused solutions that are difficult to use and control. Like mad scientists, they fail because they have not imbued their creations with humanity." 
Alan Cooper, Goal-Directed Design

As you begin walking through the presentation of your golden baby, you start looking around and notice that there seems to be something wrong with everyone's coffee that is making their faces seem upset. You plow ahead... It's getting worse! Before you can finish, you are interrupted by the guy most likely to turn you in for photocopying your butt. He says "This is NOT what we wanted. This isn't even close to what we wanted. You used red font on that line, but we would have used green. You used a picture of a dog there, but we were thinking of a cat instead. I just don't think this is working out between us. Maybe we don't need the site redesigned anymore. Maybe we can just be friends".

As people begin packing up, you are thinking to your self how embarrassing that was and how maybe a job at the warehouse is a better idea after-all. What went wrong?

You designed the website in a box.

In other words, you designed a user interface that would be consumed by someone else without learning what it is that they want, that they need, or what their can's and can'ts are. You didn't take the time to gain allies prior to going in. You took liberty, and you assumed.

Why a bat, Batman?!
In the movie Batman Begins that was released in 2005, we learn that batman chose the bat because he was terrified of bats. 

He was terrified of bats due to his traumatic childhood experience of falling into an old abandoned cave. Imagine what batman would be today if after choosing to go with the bat, he did some research to identify what other creatures are scary. More specifically, what creatures are scary to his target audience: criminals, the general public as a whole, and governmental officials... Well, maybe he would have been dressed more like Walter White from the HBO Series, Breaking Bad, or a Teletubbie! Who knows. The point is that when we are making a decision, if we just go with our own gut instinct, we may or may not be accomplishing our intended purpose.

The Conversation
When working on any design process, think of it as a conversation. Have you been in one of those conversations where the other person talks, and talks, and talks, and talks, but never quite gives you enough time to respond? How did that make you feel? Sure THEY probably feel good because they got to feel heard, but what about you? Did you get to feel heard also? It is likely that you did not get to feel heard if you were in that conversation because you didn't have a chance to voice your opinion.

Now imagine it the other way around... That is exactly what has happened with your design in the first example. They didn't get a chance to speak into your design. They are not enjoying the conversation.

The Dance
Now imagine that you are dancing with someone. If you step forward, but then step forward again. Then again, and again... You will soon be against a wall, or out the door or window. that's not dancing. That's walking. To make sure that your dance goes well, you take a little (you take a step), but then you must also give a little (let them take a step). In doing this, you are allowing them an opportunity to enjoy the dance.

In conclusion, remember that design work is a conversation between those that the design serves and you (the defender of the user experience). Let them win once in a while. Doing so will earn you an ally. It will also relay to them that you respect them and in-turn will earn you respect.
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