Golden age of design: Things ‘just work’

Pretty much everything we interact with is developing a cleaner, smarter and more useful physical embodiment.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Ross Williams on 08/24/2012 - 09:43 am.

    Bad Design

    Anyone who has used the typical web site understands that we definitely do NOT live in a “golden age of design”.

    And the reason can be found in this video’s critique of elevator buttons. Design is more than an intellectual exercise, it requires observation of how human beings actual behave and interact with the world. And a lot of techies are always surprised at that.

    Stop and consider how elevator buttons are actually used. Imagine your annoyance when you pushed the button and someone else got on after you and mistakenly toggled it off. You both end up missing your floor.

    Technology has certainly allowed new and better designs. But it has also created some clunky and difficult to use designs. Compare the old fashioned dial adjustment with those on modern radio tuners or timers. The old dial allowed more precision for the radio and was quicker to use than holding down a button that scrolls at its own speed and has limited increments. There are clearly new features the electronics allow that offset that change. But they aren’t a result of design choices.

    But this was a critique of government, not of design. Its really a complaint about collective versus individual choices. Why don’t we govern ourselves more efficiently? Because different people want and need different things. Think about choosing a restaurant with a group of families. You have people who place different values on taste, cost, ambiance, speed, selection, where and even when. If its just you, you can go where you want. When you include other people, no decision is all that easy. That is not a design issue.

    That said. There are many ways self-government could be improved by better use of technology. But there are entrenched interests that would be threatened.

    We could replace “public relations” departments, whose “clients” are government bureaucrats and the news media with real “public information” efforts that focused on making information accessible to the public. That would improve the ability of people to monitor and participate in government decisions. But it would limit the power of bureaucrats and increase the costs to the news media in creating an audience. And the increased power that information would give to individual citizens would threaten the power of elected officials to control the agenda. And by making everyone a potential “insider” it would undercut the value of the exclusive insider status that lobbyists provide to their clients.

    Again. This has nothing to do with poor design. It is a question of who benefits from the design. Which is also the reason so many web sites are poorly designed for users, they are designed to make the work of the programmers and IT departments easier. And that may mean putting more work on the users. Government has the same problem.

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