Tuesday, February 25, 2014

functional is design. beauty may not be.

Over the weekend I spotted an article in The New York Times being grumpily passed around Twitter. Reading quotes like the following made me grumpy, too:

When Peek, a start-up for booking travel activities, designed its first iPhone app, its co-founder and chief executive, Ruzwana Bashir, said she prioritized design over other factors. The app shows large photos instead of a list of activities, for instance, even though it meant Peek could not fit as many activities on each screen.

Designing Peek to have less activities per screen because it looks better is not design. Designing Peek to have less activities per screen because showing large photos makes it easier for users to navigate the app is design.

Unfortunately, this article was another story making a false distinction between how something works and how something looks. It refers to the former as 'function' and the later as 'design,' but really the design is how the two interact.

This is not to say all the examples in the article failed to be design. After all, in other cases the aesthetic improvements also increased usability. Despite the constant confusing of aesthetics as design, the concluding sentence gives hope: "first and foremost I look for empathy, because design is not art, it’s actually solving real problems for people."

Design can be functional. Design can be aesthetics. But design can never ever be aesthetics over function.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Three steps to GoldieBlox's Success

GoldieBlox, a construction toy aimed at young girls that teaches the basic principles of engineering, has been in the news lately due to their Super Bowl ad sponsored by Intuit’s Small Business Big Game contest. I had the privilege of working for GoldieBlox almost two years ago. (In fact, the first post I wrote about it is here.) I’ve been delighted to watch its success, including Fast Company’s recent nod as one of the 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2014. The award is well deserved, but founder Debbie Sterling’s innovative approach to creating GoldieBlox is a lot deeper than one amazing idea. Not surprising given Debbie’s degree from Stanford in Product Design, her process for creating GoldieBlox was intentionally designed. Debbie is the type of client every designer is lucky to work for because she understood the work that is required to make innovation happen.

Step One: Research
Before Debbie created the toy that now is GoldieBlox, she started by understanding her audience. Debbie read research and spoke with child development psychologists to understand the way that young girls want to play. She realized that many young girls enjoy story based play and start reading at an early age. It was from these initial conversations that she came up with the building set and story combination.

Step Two: Bring others into the process
Debbie reached out to broad swaths of people. She rejected the celebrated trope of a lone creator, understanding that innovation is made better by having ideas get beaten up and improved. I was always impressed by how willing she was to talk to anyone interested about her idea and through that she was able to build a strong team.

Step Three: Test and revise
Even after initial user research proved that young girls were responding positively to GoldieBlox, Debbie continued to ask the design team to identify ways to revise the toy to enhance the learning experience. She was not satisfied by merely proving her initial concept but pushed to make the best possible toy before launching the Kickstarter campaign, and has continued to improve the toys and expand the line. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

read more: sustainable web design

"How can the web have a sustainability problem when 'paperless' and 'eco-friendly' frequently share the same sentence? After all, designers in many disciplines are trying to fix their own sustainability problems by moving them online – in other words, things are made 'green' when they go on the web...While some products become more sustainable by converting them to a swarm of bits, we must remember that those bits require something very physical to exist – a big, high-tech network, using lots of electricity and always-on computers to operate."