I’ve just finished reading Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. It’s a fantastic book that anyone interested in entrepreneurship, management or just the pursuit of happiness should read. Focused on providing a great customer experience from the outset, Zappos eventually evolved the policy of “Delivering Happiness”. The notion that Hsieh describes in the book, delivering happiness through the best customer service, reflects what has attracted me to human factors and user focused design. We are finally at a crossroads in technology where computers, even mobile phones and tablets, have enough computing power to easily accomplish almost every task a typical user could wish to complete. This hardware transformation that has occured over the past decade is incredible, yet technology still baffles and frustrates a large portion of the population.
But why is this? Products are designed around hardware and existing software, not around the user. Interfaces are designed by engineers concerned with optimization and matching input to a well-designed backend, but this mode of interface design has become outdated with our increasingly powerful hardware. If we can use the extra speed of today’s computers to create more elegant designs that may be slightly slower in developer terms, but make more sense to the user, why shouldn’t we?
Design is not about form or function alone, but about the interaction each of these two components share with the user. Any technology, from a door handle to the latest smartphone is nothing more than dead weight unless someone is able to use it effectively. This need is what made me fall in love with user centered design. By creating with the user in mind, we are able to deliver happiness to the user through an intuitive interface, a rewarding interaction, and a sense of ease and comfort when using the product. I may be going against the basic principles of human factors design when saying this, but this does’t necessarily mean that hours of research, consumer studies, focus groups, just ask Microsoft’s Windows team whose research about Windows Explorer led them to the wrong conclusion and resulted in an ugly and unusable design. Assuming that users don’t use a feature because it isn’t accessible, the design team added every option back into the menu, creating a very functional design that will confuse most users and leave the rest searching the sea of buttons for the correct one.
So what is the key to creating interfaces and designs that users will love? Understanding. Engineers nor designers are the end users of the system. While we may all think we understand how others think it’s not often the case. To understand the user we have to leave behind our own experiences and ideas and take on those of others. This can be done through research and usability testing, but can also be done by acting the role of our target user. Start a design as the end user, not the designer, and you will ultimately meet yourself halfway with an elegant, beautiful design that users will flock to.