Designer as Steward

Every person who works in design should read The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. It doesn't matter if you are not "a designer," what matters is that you are working to make something people will use. By the time I got to the book, the 1988 text, even updated, felt old and the sections on technology were at once amazingly far-sighted and comically ignorant of what my daily life looked like. At the time, I remember thinking that if I wanted to listen to an old person complain, I could have called my grandma and been done with it. All the while the true impact of the text was working in my life.

Every time I make something, Donald Norman is there, in my minds ear, admonishing extra buttons, and decrying unclear labels. Whenever I look at the newsletter subscribe button on my front page, he is there, upset that I am yet unable to find some way to distinguish between a button that would have you email me from a button that would have me email you, disgusted that I took the cowards way out with the use of hover-over text.

Donald Norman is the reason I think of user experience. Coming from a more tech background, where sayings like RTFM (read the effing manual) are rote, and the word "user" is more than likely paired with the word "error," I had never considered that it would be my job to make the user comfortable, even happy to use something I had made.

That sounds to ridiculous, but it's true. I was doing the creative equivalent of inviting people over to my house and then walking out the back door as soon as they came in, leaving them to figure the rest out on their own.

When we make something for someone, we are inviting them to put their trust in us, to give us their time and attention in exchange for further payout. Maybe the time is only a few minutes, and the payout is a fast and easy way to keep up with us online, or to interact with us in some way, but just being ourselves is not enough. We must always strive to make the user experience as seamless and stress-free as possible. We are inviting people to our product, we have an obligation to their well-being while they are in our care.

This stewardship of the user is an extension of customer service, which should be an extension of the brand promises. In the vast expanse of the Internet, where the signal to noise ratio is deafening, the fact that a user has selected our product should never be taken lightly. Too many buttons, too much movement, inconsistent layout, or illusive or vague menus are nothing short of rude. Anything that causes the user even a second of confusion or distraction should be avoided at all costs.

Not all users are created equal, and there are confusing elements in any interactive space, which is why contact information should also be prominent. But there are a lot of ways to ensure that the majority of your users can find what they need in a minimum of time, with little to no hassle. When a user clicks on our page, the question we ask ourselves shouldn't be 'what can this user do for me?' but rather 'what can I do for this user?' We owe them at least that much.

~ M ~