Web Experience: Designing for the Obvious, the Boring, the "Of Course"

3 minute read
Gerry McGovern avatar

Making things that are simple and useful is often the result of a lot of boring and tedious work.

Getting to the heart of simplicity is about having a real clarity of purpose. What is the core use of the object you are designing, of the piece of content you are creating? What is its most essential function?

"Our products are tools and we don't want design to get in the way," Jonathan Ive, Apple's senior vice president of industrial design told the Daily Telegraph in May 2012. "We're trying to bring simplicity and clarity; we're trying to order the products."

It is strange to hear a designer say the he doesn't want design to get in the way, but that is exactly what great designers do. "A line will take us hours maybe; Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, our stitching and unstitching has been naught."

These are lines from William Butler Yeats. They reflect the true essence of our challenge today. In the quest to make the customers life simpler, easier, faster, we must strive to make our work seem natural and often invisible.

Today, I had to visit the University College Dublin campus. The signposting was appalling. I noticed it. If it had been really clear I would hardly have noticed it.

A certain type of design tries to call attention to itself, to get attention. It is focused on the "wow factor", of the packaging. This sort of design can work for fast moving consumer goods where there is little or no difference between products.

"There are two sides to the design coin," James Dyson writes. "There is serious design -- making sure that the manufactured object performs its task in the best possible way. And there is styling -- the essentially superficial task of making sure something looks attractive ...styling for its own sake is a lazy 20th century conceit."

Learning Opportunities

Apple does not do wow design. "We try to develop products that seem somehow inevitable, that leave you with the sense that that's the only possible solution that makes sense," Jonathan Ive states.

"Businesses get caught up in their own brilliance," Alexis Dormandy, founder of LoveThis, writes in The Telegraph in May 2012. "This danger is particularly acute in industries like technology, communications and finance, where "being clever" and delivering "the latest thing" is particularly prized."

Often, making it easy for the customer means doing lots of boring, behind the scenes work. For example, you can make your search work much better by deleting old content. But that's the type of work nobody really wants to do.

You get paid to be bored. Check it up. It's in your contract: "You will feel bored. Think of your salary."

You must care about the customer but the customer doesn't care about you. "Accept that what you do is boring," Alexis Dormandy states. "The reality is that most of us spend our days doing things customers don't care about."

"Great design means that one look and the end user reacts by knowing what to do with a knob or a button, without as much as even thinking about it," Om Malik writes. "Of course this knob is what turns the volume up, or brings up the home screen. This "of course" factor is at the heart of every great design."

About the author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the worldwide authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.

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