Every day, in our industry, things are made. Digital things. Some as small as a single pixel and others, many millions of pixels assembled into an app, site or experience.
So, it’s our responsibility to advocate for those who use the things we’re tasked with making and it’s our duty to ensure that those things are easier to use, understand, complete, create and enjoy.
Paddy Donnelly brought up a piece of advice he wished he’d been given as a young designer and it got me thinking. Web design folk are awesome at sharing and we’ve made some amazing places where we can do so, like Dribbble, Forrst, Git and Stack. We’re surrounded by great teams and inspiring visionaries who pioneer new methods that we can all try and fail at together. We collect notebooks, understand TNG references and have an incredibly intimate understanding of plaid. We work hard, but for who?
Amidst all of the liking, re-tweeting and web design gallery badges it’s easy to forget who we really work for. Some of you will say we work for our clients and that’s partially true. Some of you will say we work for our bosses – again, partially true. Most of you will say we work for ourselves, toiling over details and polishing our code until we’re proud to send it out into the world. Sometimes it even seems like we work for each other, or at least each other’s approval, but at the end of the day, we work for the user.
At Filament, we love users. I know that totally sounds like we dig junkies, but it’s true (not the junkie part). Our clients hire us because they know we’re not afraid to speak up. We ask why, we push back, and we call bullshit, but we don’t do it to stroke our own egos. We do it because we believe in making things that are useful and enjoyable. We believe in clear communication and in making people feel like they’ve won the internet every day. Happy users are loyal users (again, not the drug thing).
Aarron Walter described his version of Maslow’s Hierarchy in his excellent book “Designing For Emotion” and I love it. I even designed a poster so I could refer to it often. He compares the act of designing usable interfaces to a chef cooking edible food. If it’s the most basic thing we can possibly do, why would we focus on merely edible when we can make something incredible, memorable and enjoyable?
This hit home recently while designing the Android app for Green P. We already had an iOS version that people were really enjoying and we wanted to provide the same great experience to this new group of users. It would have been easy to port over the existing app and make it functional, but deep down we knew it was our responsibility to give Android users a proper experience. Having a die-hard Android user in-house didn’t hurt either. We stripped it down and re-designed it from the ground up. Sure, it took twice as long as a port would have, but the end result is a tailored experience that showed users we actually thought about them and not just about cashing the cheque. On a side note, the design and dev documentation that the Android team has put together is excellent and here’s a handy article about asset resizing by Travis Hines at Teehan & Lax.
“Design is not just making something beautiful the way you want to make it, but designing the most thoughtful, human thing you can within the constraints” – Wilson Miner.
Wilson’s quote in the latest issue of Offscreen was timely for this article. Before we try and infuse the latest trend or design technique we must ask ourselves if we’re doing it because it’s cool, or because it makes sense? Will it benefit the user? Will it work in dev? Is it the bevel and lens flare of 2012? Are we making something as human as we can, or are we more concerned with making it pretty? You’ve heard the old cliche (and the song, of course)– It’s What’s Inside That Counts. As a designer, I think the outside counts as well, but even the most gorgeous UI can’t save an app that leaves users frustrated.
Paddy’s advice is sound (his work isn’t bad either) and I think even the most grizzled veteran could use a reminder from time to time. So let’s continue to geek out, give kudos, and admire Instagrammed pics of our iSetups, but let’s not forget who we go to work for every day. We’ll be better designers, our clients will get better results and users everywhere will be a lot happier.