How do great design happen?
I guess we all have experienced complex and difficult user experiences over the years. Every now and again we come across these painful experiences with user interfaces that takes a lot of time to interpret how to use. And when we use it we find out the hard way that we have to type in the exact thing in the exact format in the right order to operate it. Otherwise it will crash hard and force us to start the tedious task all over again. Phu! We all know about these painful experiences, don’t we?
Equally, we all recognise the feeling of using something that you know how to use at first attempt. A user interface that feels easy and where we do not have to think. At all. We simply use it and it works like a charm. Smooth. How great this makes you feel. Sometimes we even smile when we experience that little extra detailed joyful moment that we did not expect. We are overwhelmed by the experience. These moments are the best. I guess we all can remember some of them?
But how do you go about making these fantastic experiences? How do you create them? Is it something that magically happen all of the sudden? A natural gift? Is it just to put a designer in front of their favourite design tool and restyle the old complex user interface? Give a talented designer a few hours to add some new colors, controls, fonts and icons? Hm…maybe not. Some people may think so, but unfortunately it takes a lot more than this.
Great design is the result of a lot of hard work. You really need to get to the bottom of the problem to solve. To really understand the needs of the end users. What do they want to achieve? Why? What do they want to do next? Why? And so forth. Moreover, you really need to understand the business context and vision. And the emerging technological possibilities. And the systems at play outside the problem you are solving. And once you understood all parts, then… turn the problem inside out, map all parts of the problem from all perspectives, gather all the pieces and see how they connect. And start coming up with ideas. First attempts will fail, and most likely the next twenty or so. But if you keep going and look for the patterns that connects the dots….you might find the really easy solution that just works. And when you see it, it feels obvious and natural. Then you just did the magic.
It is the art of design engineering and it takes a passionate designer (or team) that don’t give in for the half-done solution to succeed. There is no magic bullet. It is hard work at play. But once you have the beautiful solution in front of you, you know it was all worth it. You know it will do the trick and make the users happier. And that can never be wrong.
One of my favourite Steve Jobs quotes describes the process from the perspective of the designer.
“When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem. Then you get into the problem, and you see that it’s really complicated, and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That’s sort of the middle, and that’s where most people stop… But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem – and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works.”
The process described by Steve Jobs
So the next time you experience something that just works, something smooth and maybe unexpected that makes you smile. Remember that someone have spent a lot of time to think about the problem and designed that experience for you. So that you can enjoy it and use it effortlessly over and over again. It was design engineering at play. Amazing, don’t you think?
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