Inside Goal-Directed Design: A Conversation With Alan Cooper (Part 2)

We continue our conversation with Alan Cooper at Sue and Alan’s warm and welcoming ranch in Petaluma, CA, which, in addition to themselves, is home to sheep and chickens, a cat named Monkey, and a farmer who works the land.

Part 2 brings us up to present-day, and discussions around the applications and fundamentals of Goal-Directed Design that support its success at Cooper and beyond.

From Theory to Practice­­

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Designing the Future: Cooper in Berlin

Most software projects are built around the question “What are we going to do next?” But occasionally we’re asked to think farther out. Projects focused on the 5-10 year range are more about “Where are we headed?” and “What’s going to inspire people?” These are different questions to ask, and answering them changes the usual process of interaction design.

I’ve been thinking about these things for a while, and while at the MobX conference in Berlin I conducted a workshop where a group of 16 designers and strategists took a look at how you answer these questions.

So…how do you do it? The core of the matter is to understand what’s going to be different in the future you’re designing for.

These kinds of projects are less about “What’s next?” and more about “Where are we headed?” and “What’s going to inspire people?”

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Should you ditch your interface?

What if instead of designing explicit interfaces we aimed instead at eliminating them altogether? If instead of adding a screen we found ways to remove it? Wouldn’t the best user interface be the one that requires nothing of the user?

No UI, proposed here on the Journal by Cooper’s Golden Krishna, is interesting, provocative, and deeply flawed. Golden argues that no interface is best, and then explores ways strip it out. But this begins with a designer’s goal rather than the users’. First identify where users are helped or hindered by explicit interfaces: When hindered, eliminate the UI. But there’s many times when a UI really helps. When it does, make it great.

But where to start? Three questions can help you evaluate the user’s relationship with a task, product or service.

For any particular interface in the system:

  1. Does the user want or need control?
  2. Does the user get value from doing the work themselves?
  3. Does the user outperform technology?

If you can answer “no” to every one of these questions, then put in the effort to eliminate the interface. If you answer “yes” to any one of these you should focus on improving the interface so that it supports the user better. If it’s not unanimously “yes” or “no” carefully consider how design can meet the conflicting needs. Get to know your users well. Design a solution that’s as sophisticated and nuanced as their situation calls for.

Each of these questions helps you examine the relationship of the user with the technology. These are massively important considerations when advocating for the elimination of the interface; a product without some form of interface effectively doesn’t exist for the user. The UI is the embodiment of your relationship with it. No interface, no relationship. Sometimes this is exactly what you want. But people also value products because they bring something into their lives, or because they remove some obstacle from it. Every tool, game, or service gives people power, information, peace, pleasure, or possibility. Interactions with these should be awesome, helpful, supportive, effortless; and for this we often need a really great UI.

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Fixing a broken user experience featured on Smashing Magazine

There’s innumerable ways to arrive at a state where a company’s product offerings present a frustrating or broken user experience. Few organizations can’t realistically throw everything away and start over. If it’s broken, you need a strategy that allows you to iterate toward a better user experience. Cooper’s Stefan Klocek outlines one approach Cooper uses with clients to improve user experience across an organization’s suite of products.

From the article:

Unless you’re developing completely new products at a startup, you likely work in an organization that has accumulated years of legacy design and development in its products. Even if the product you’re working on is brand spanking new, your organization will eventually need to figure out how to unify the whole product experience, either by bringing the old products up to par with the new or by bringing your new efforts in line with existing ones. A fragmented product portfolio sometimes leads to an overall broken user experience.

Understanding an organization and its users and designing the right interaction and visual system take exceptional effort. You also need to communicate that system to teams that have already produced work that doesn’t align with it. This isn’t easy work. In this article, we’ll introduce you to a strategy for fixing the broken experience that starts with surface improvements, goes progressively deeper into structural issues and ends with a big organizational shift.

Read the rest of the article, meet The Hierarchy of Effort (pictured below), and enjoy the discussion over at Smashing Magazine.

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Detailing Lyrical Travel

In our last Drawing Board, we explored the desire some travelers have to uncover and experience the authentic spirit of a place. For the Lyrical Travel Drawing Board, we meet Jeanette. She’s in a new town with a day on her hands. Without much to go on and wanting to avoid the same old guidebooks, she turns to Latourex for inspiration.

The Drawing Board Episode 10: Lyrical Travel from Cooper on Vimeo.

Credits: Chris Noessel, Christina Worsing, Greg Schuler

In the video we introduce the high points of the service. In this blog post we’ll go deep in explaining some of our design thinking about how such an app might work to help Jeanette accomplish her goals.

Our Inspiration

This Drawing Board was inspired by “Experimental Travel”, aka Latourex. Latourex is short for LAboratoire de TOURisme EXperimental. Experimental Travel was developed by Rachael Antony and Joël Henry as a series of techniques to make travel more interesting. In this type of travel, people play “games” on the road, to get them off the beaten path. We love this idea where chance operations inspire and help support us in our search for unique and authentic travel experiences. In our Drawing Board, we explore how this approach might translate to a service design opportunity via a mobile experience.

The first thing we realized is that as in Latourex itself, no single game would suffice. So we envisioned a container app called Latourex Travel Games that has an open and extensible architecture. Some game modules would be available at launch, but over time more modules could be added, keeping the content fresh. Lyrical Travel would just be one module within this container app, and the sketch below shows that the Latourex app is what Jeanette would download.

Once downloaded and launched, the app would briefly introduce itself, and then get Jeanette to the action as quickly as possible by providing a default selection from the available modules. If she wasn’t interested in this first randomly selected module, she could “roll the dice” (or shake the phone) to get another one. While fun and in the spirit of Latourex, that mechanism could become tiresome if she was looking for a particular module, so we provided means to select a particular one from a list if she wanted. Since we knew that such an app would grow by word-of-mouth, we also let her replicate the module through which she learned about the app: Lyrical Travel.

In the world of Latourex, Lyrical Tourism is a game where travelers select a song for a given location, and let the lyrics suggest things to do and see. When we imagined what this could be in a mobile app, we recognized we could keep the spirit of the original game and improve upon it by providing:

  • A huge database of songs that might fit given locations
  • Easy access to lyrics
  • Automated local suggestions based on those lyrics
  • Simple ways to capture, curate, and share the experience

We saw that we could facilitate this experience in four steps: getting started, guided suggestions, capturing key moments, and curating/sharing the results.

A Four-Step Process

1. Getting Started

In preparation for her adventure, Jeanette first tells the app some things about her travel: where she wants to explore; what her transportation options are; and how much time she has. We suspect that most users would open the app just before wanting to explore, so the default screen uses her current location, allowing her to select another or even randomize. Rather than make these separate steps, we thought the map screen had enough real estate to let these be simple radio buttons or toggle buttons as overlays to the map. This way it would feel more like a single step even though it has three separate pieces of information.

We’re also big fans of the power of Lyrical Travel to encourage people to rediscover familiar places like their hometowns and suspect setting the current location as the default would encourage this idea when people open the app near home.

With a location set, a song is next needed. By default, Lyrical Travel makes a suggestion, selected at random and based on a search of the location Jeanette has chosen. She has a control that lets her listen to it to see if she likes it. That makes it simple to use. We understand that a default song wouldn’t always be to her liking, so the app enables her to either “re-roll the dice” or allow her to select from her own music. (You’ll notice the interaction is the same from the prior screen. You can read more on the pattern, below.)

These two options—randomization or direct selection—work, but we also wanted to provide her an “in-between” option that would keep the interaction simple and still ensure an ideal match. To accomplish this, we thought that she could permit the app to scan her music collection (on the phone, or possibly in the cloud). In this scan it could look at any ratings she provided, combined with the sheer volume of songs she has of particular categories. From this, Latourex could infer the categories of music she prefers, similar to how Pandora can infer preferences from a small set of choices.

2. Guided Suggestions

With a place and a song in hand, the app next begins to make suggestions on what to do by looking for key words in the lyrics. The algorithm would try to find more unusual words and unique phrases first, so the suggestions would be particular for each song, but gracefully degrade to more common words if those first ones don’t have any results. The app would then display the suggestions it found about local activities and place them alongside the lyrics, highlighting the connections if possible. Suggestions include an image, a title, and a small overview. With a tap Jeanette can get to more details, including directions from her current location and the ability to rate suggestions. She is able to delete any suggestion with a swipe, giving room to other suggestions of greater interest.

3. Capturing Key Moments

Using persistent tools below the suggestions, Jeanette is able to capture moments through text, photos, and video. She’s free, of course, to follow these to the letter or interpret as she pleases. As she collects memories of the day, they stack below the suggestions, next to the lyrics. If she wishes, she can delete or rearrange these with standard iOS gestures.

4. Curating and Sharing the Experience

Jeanette is able to save and share her experiences through curated “video postcards.” We wire-framed three different ways for her to edit: Edit by ratings (the simplest), simple editing, and power editing. Below you’ll see the sketch for the Edit by Ratings screen, which lets Jeanette rate individual elements. The Postcard Player chooses and dynamically displays the elements during the duration of the lyrics, ensuring a minimum time per element, and augmenting elements with “The Ken Burns Effect” slow panning and zooming effects. Though we did not have time to comp it up, we thought that to be in the slightly-random spirit of Latourex, the postcard wouldn’t be a fixed video, but a semi-random display, like slideshows from a photo album app, that plays with the selected song and overlaid lyrics.

To share the postcard, Jeanette has the option to share with others by posting the video to the Latourex site, or sending a link directly to whomever she likes. There are some complexities about getting the media from her phone to the site, but we did not detail these out in this wireframe pass.

Design Challenge 1: Keeping Jeanette in the world

To meet Jeanette’s goals, her experience should involve interacting with technology but not being consumed by it. She shouldn’t walk around the city all day with the phone in front of her face. How do we create interactions that integrate into the flow of a person’s day but not interrupt it? To solve this problem, we made the interface as modeless as possible, letting her drop in and out of it as she needs or wants to.

Design Challenge 2: Avoiding musical burnout

If a single song serves as a guide, how is it offered in a way where the person doesn’t burn out on it by the end of the game? To solve this problem, we chose not to play the song by default. It was tempting to have the song underscore the lyrics as she was interacting with the lyrics, but it felt like it would be too much. It’s always opt-in, and the app would work well with her music player app.

Design Challenge 3: Varying degrees of control

When it comes to planning and travel itself, people want varying degrees of control. From highly supported and structured to free-form and interpretive, Lyrical Travel enables people to make decisions from direct selections to self-guided interpretation. This pattern of enabling people to move from simple to more complex decision-making processes is experienced across the service. For example, in the process of choosing songs people can accept suggestions; choose from random; or make their own, personal selections. In using the lyrics as a guide, people can select and follow specific suggestions in the order in which they appear in the song; jump around and choose at random; or disregard suggestions completely and interpret lyrics using their own internal compass. And finally, when creating a video postcard, as mentioned earlier, people can turn the reins over to Lyrical Travel or take full control of curating their day using the tools provided by the app.

Design Pattern: Random default first & Roll the dice

In several places throughout the app, we noticed a pattern emerging, and once we found it, we opted to stick to it. The pattern is that for choices Jeanette needed to make, we would not present a menu of options. Instead, we would first present a good, default selection. If she was in a hurry or wanted to keep it simple, Jeanette could just press OK and be on her way. And of course we would offer an option to select directly through a full-featured menu, but that didn’t feel complete given the spirit of randomness that’s inherent in Latourex. To meet that spirit, there’s a “roll the dice” option that would select another option randomly. And in the music selection we even went one step further to take advantage of existing data to improve the likelihood of a roll Jeanette would really love.

Service implications

In order to deliver on the promise of the ideas in the video, we realize that there would be not just an app, but a complete service underneath it, to help connect travelers and house the marketplace of modules. Imagining this container service led us to aspects of the design such as hearing about it through an existing member, letting similar travelers’ selections influence suggestions, and giving Jeanette options to meet other Latourex travelers near her.

Wrapping Up

We had a lot of fun making this short video as we explored some fun topics like travel, inspiration, and chance operations. We hope you’ll enjoy the fruits of our labor. We even have a bit of an itch to have this app in hand ourselves when we do our own travel, and though we don’t ever want to design for ourselves, we think it’s a positive sign. What do you think? Would you use this app? Can you think of other ways Travel Experiments can be brought into such an app without losing their magic, and encourage a community of Latourists? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Contributors: Chris Noessel, Christina Worsing, and Suzy Thompson

Related reading

Design pattern: A hood to look under

Technology is getting better at doing things on behalf of its users. “Don’t worry about that,” it says, “Tell me what you want, and I’ll do the rest.” (Read more about how tech is shifting users from task-doers to flow-managers at Treating users (Like a Boss.))

This trend is great because it saves users tedious work that computers are better at doing. But people aren’t comfortable just giving control over to a system, especially when it’s an opaque “black box” of a function that just provides the end result. Like a car, users need a hood to look under to build enough trust before they will close it up and get back behind the wheel.

Problem: Trust in a new system is never automatic

under the hood.jpg

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Passive magic, design of delightful experience

Why is Google Maps on a mobile device so amazing and delightful? Why does Word Lens feel so mind-blowing? Why does a Prius feel so good when you get in and go? Why does it feel satisfying to look down at the lighted keyboard on the Mac?

It is noteworthy when the design of an experience is so compelling that you feel wonder and delight. When designed right it feels totally natural, some might even say it is truly “intuitive.” No training is needed, no set-up, no break in flow, the tool fits seamlessly, improving without disrupting your experience; it’s like a little bit of magic.

So how to design the delightful, magical experience?

In the digital world magic experiences are more likely to follow technology breakthroughs. New ways to give input (touchscreens, gestures, sensors), output (3D, haptics), and raw processing (speed, power) all provide opportunities for unexpected delight. These days passive input is an especially rich field because devices have many more sensors, and the raw processing power is ample enough to provide real-time turnaround on data-intensive tasks.

I’m using passive to describe input which is largely listening and processing signal which is self-identified, as opposed to active input where signal is initiated by the user with specific intent. Active input is keyboard, mouse, touch, and gesture. Passive input is background processing of optical, audio, kinesthetic, or other signal, and programmed response to this. In reality there’s more of a spectrum between active and passive, not a strict divide.

If you’e got a smart phone, a Mac, or a new car, chances are your experience is augmented with passive input magic. GPS, accelerometer, light sensor, mic, OCR, RFID, and facial/object recognition are all used as passive input. But passive input signal alone isn’t going to deliver delight. It’s what you do with the signal which is where the magic happens.

Fully passive input, quietly helping in the background

Some sensors run in the background, quietly listening for the right signal which tells them to kick in and help. The fact that you don’t need to switch into a mode first makes the experience smooth and seamless, the magic just happens.

Your Macbook pro uses an optical sensor to evaluate the amount of ambient light. When the light falls below a certain threshold, back-lighting under the keyboard improves your ability to visually target the keys.

It’s a small feature but it’s super delightful. Your computer “knows” when to assist and jumps in to provide illumination. You don’t need to interrupt what you’re doing, but an automatic and subtle shift in the experience makes it better.

As more cars adopt it, the keyless entry and ignition of the Prius may seem unremarkable, but the design is still delightful.

Walk up to your locked car with your keys in your pocket, without using your keys reach for the handle and the car opens. Sit down and press the start button with the keys still in your pocket. Security is a necessary evil, allowing it to recede to the background of the experience is delightful.

Imagine speeding along the freeway, you become lulled into a less aware state, and suddenly traffic ahead is at a full standstill. Your reaction time is not what it should be, you didn’t notice until it’s too late to stop. But your Volvo S60 has been paying attention, it’s been watching out for you and when it senses the stopped traffic it applies the breaks for you. Its finely tuned system adjusts the breaking to match the distance and your car stops a few feet from the bumper of the car ahead of you.

The radar system in your car searches for possible collisions with other cars or pedestrians, warning you and even taking action if you don’;t. There’s lots to go wrong if the system doesn’t correctly identify and react to danger, but if it works as designed the experience is magic. Your car ceases to be a dumb hunk of metal hurtling around the roads and becomes an intelligent agent, working to keep you safe and protected. If the system only gave you a warning the experience of driving would be interrupted, instead it takes action and assists, improving your ability to drive safely.

Modal passive experiences, input with a little prompting

The form factor and design of hand-held devices often forces you to open an app (entering a mode) before delivering passive input goodness. The limited processing power, battery life and screen size simply doesn’t allow for the activity to fade to the background. Also, no good interaction paradigm has been created which allows for automatic, smooth and intelligent switching between passive input modes. If it existed this would facilitate less modal choices, delivering instead the right assistance at the right time, without requiring a prompt from you.

There are a number of great apps that work with passive input once launched which deliver super delightful experiences.

Open Google Maps on a mobile device and it not only displays a map, but it pinpoints where you are and shows it. Move your device and the map moves to reorient based on which direction you are facing.

It’s a magical experience because the map ceases to be an abstract puzzle. Its sensing and orienting to your position makes the map personal, it becomes an augmentation of reality, another view of where you are. This transformation is subtle, but deeply satisfying. The map unifies with the territory, its utility shifts from planning the route to navigating it in real-time.

Recent versions of iPhoto come with an amazing feature, the ability to automatically recognize and tag faces in your photo collection.

Once established the accuracy with which iPhoto performs this task is amazing. Add new photos to your collection and iPhoto figures out who’s in them and organizes appropriately. It’s a satisfying and delightful experience once you’ve trained it. It doesn’t take a huge amount of time, but training anything takes away from the magic. Somehow training feels like doing work, you are part of the magic trick, not fully able to sit back and enjoy the show.

Nuance’s Dragon voice transcription software used to take hours to train to recognize your voice. The experience was tedious and time consuming. This upfront work made it hard to feel wow’ed once it started working.

Today you can download a free app for your iPhone and simply start speaking. It’s a pretty delightful experience because it just works. Your voice is instantly transformed into text.

The first version of Red Laser was novel, but failed to delight. What shifted the experience was eliminating the management and preparation required.

Version one required users to take a clear photo of the bar-code within a tight frame. The second version just asks users to point the video camera and loosely target the bar-code. It feels easier, more natural, more like how the eye operates. The experience improved and “adoption rates shot up”:

Point Word Lens at a sign in a foreign language and instantly read it in your native tongue.

A lot is going on under the hood to deliver this magical experience. Optical character recognition of the foreign text from a video grab, translation of it, and overlaying the video with replacement text, all in real-time. Of course you don’t see any of this, and that’s part of the magic. Your experience isn’t interrupted, you see video that one instant is Spanish and the next is English. The video feed just got a lot more useful. Of course they also need to get the translation at least part-way right or it doesn’t matter.

Pleco is another iPhone app that translates printed text. Like Word Lens it uses the live video feed. Unlike Word Lens the translation is fed back to you in a text box at the bottom of the screen instead of overlaid into the video feed.

This may seem like a small difference, but it interrupts and abstracts the experience. If your goal is to learn another language, seeing both at the same time would be useful, but for simply understanding, replacing the foreign language in place is a far more delightful experience. It feels more natural, and the interface itself doesn’t dominate the presentation.

Sometimes all you need to do is give permission for the magic to happen. When you land on a web page in a foreign language, Google Chrome browser automatically takes action and offers to translate the page for you. If you accept, the page quickly transforms before your eyes, into language which you can understand.

What makes this delightful is that you are prompted at the right moment, with assistance which is immediate, and doesn’t take you out of your browsing experience. The page maintains its layout, but suddenly the words are all familiar. Links still work, images still show up, it’s almost as if a part of your brain has been turned on which can suddenly understand Japanese.

The promise of Jubbigo is huge: you speak into your phone in English, your phone translates what you say and speaks it in Japanese.

In practice Jubbigo gets the job done, but it never feels magic or delightful. You aren’t forced to switch modes which is good; you speak words in and a spoken translation comes out. But your experience is still interrupted with the significant amount of processing time between input and output. The lag time between speaking and hearing the translation is more than noticeable, it dominates the experience. To be delightful you need near-instant performance. Google Maps works well because it finds your location immediately, Word Lens wows because the words are replaced in near real-time.

What makes a delightful, magical experience?

* Transformation must occur, adding utility, meaning, or even useful action
* It must happen without delay
* The transformation must maintain fidelity and accuracy to the original
* The transformation shouldn’t interrupt the larger experience
* The less abstract, the more magical
* The less management/preparation the more satisfying

Take a look through the examples above. The ones that really delight are those that meet more than a few of these principles. When experiences show promise, but don’t deliver you can see they fail to play by these principles. Read More

Making it suck

At Cooper, we spend thousands of hours designing systems around the goals and motivations of the people that will use them. We travel across the country, continent and world to have conversations with real users to ensure that we understand their needs and that our design decisions will make their everyday tasks easier and more intuitive to accomplish.

But perhaps we can improve our methods by considering an inverse approach: What if our intent was to frustrate, rather than ease? What if we intentionally made things subtly challenging and unintuitive?

Aside from simply malicious design, is there anything that intentionally facilitates a bad experience? Why would someone do that to other people? For what reasons might something be made to suck?

Making walking suck (for strength)

I was first thinking about this a few months ago when I was with my brother who just had his first kid (making me a first-time uncle). We were at Target to buy some diapers when a woman in her thirties walked by wearing a pair of shoes that were anything but ordinary.

Take the typical athletic shoe company: In general, they’ve probably been trying to make the shoe experience better by iterating designs and materials in an attempt to make it easier to walk, run or jump.

The woman at Target was wearing a pair of shoes that had, well, a different goal. Despite being sold in the same retail space as shoes that boast comfort and support, the shoes didn’t make walking better; they made it worse. In fact, the intent of the shoes was to make walking suck.

The shoes are called “Shape Ups.” Because walking in them is more difficult, wearing them is considered “exercise.” And a thirty-something mother in the diaper section at Target might figure she doesn’t have the time to exercise anymore, so she made walking suck in an attempt to get fit.

Making everyday experiences more difficult is actually common in exercise equipment. Lifting weights, for example, adds resistance to common arm and leg movements. Shape Ups just apply this principle to walking. They make walking suck so that their users can become stronger doing everyday activities.

Making you feel sick (for fun)

In sixth grade, those of us nerdy enough to be a part of Safety Patrol—the early risers who helped classmates cross the street—took a field trip to Adventureland, a theme park in our home state of Iowa. It was a reward for a year of hard work.

One of my good friends got on a popular ride called the Silly Silo. To participate is simple: Stand inside a silo while it spins around and around at a quicker and quicker rate.

While many products aim directly at making you feel good, the Silly Silo is designed to make you feel horrible. Participants exit feeling dizzy and motion sickness. For my friend, the result was puking into the nearest trash can.

If a piece of business software caused you to feel dizzy, motion sickness or induce vomiting, it’d be a disaster. But in the world of amusement, engaging our body’s natural gag reaction can be a great thing. Rides like the Silly Silo, those that drop you thirty stories, or roller coasters that flip you upside down are among the many common amusement park attractions that generate fun out of the rush a horrible feeling provides.

Making ugly websites (for good business)

A local store in the Silicon Valley asked me to create a website for them a few years ago. I jumped at the chance. I loved the owner’s vision, his dedication to the community and his desire to create it with beautiful design. But something felt strange about creating such a professional site for a small shop.

Around that time, in 2006, Luke Wroblewski wrote a blog post titled “Make it Ugly” in which he described clients that wanted ugly websites so that the sites would feel more “genuine.” Luke made an argument against the idea, but desiring ugly in search of authenticity isn’t an unusual thought. Fourteen years earlier, in 1992, Ellen Lupton wrote “Low and High” in Eye Magazine, which discussed the history of graphic designers exploring low-brow aesthetics.

Nothing says local like Comic Sans. (Flickr by marblegravy)

I didn’t make the store’s website suck. But after they closed their doors—a year after I designed their site—maybe I should have. After all, littering your store with Papyrus, Comic Sans menus or having a dated website screams to the visitor, among other things, “Hey, I’m local. I’m the real deal.” Conversely, professional typography, an elegant color palette, and rock-solid IA might communicate, “I’m a chain. I’m corporate.” Making these elements suck a little might have better communicated the store’s local, personal approach.

Making airport seats suck (for prevention)

In 2008, I was sitting at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport exhausted, depressed and trying to fall asleep. I had run through an airport in Colorado, faced a long-delayed flight in California and, by the end of the night, had been re-routed across the country to Chicago in hopes of catching an early morning flight to make the funeral of a close friend that had died days earlier in Iowa.

Despite being emotionally and physically drained, I couldn’t fall asleep on the seats at O’Hare. I tried resting my legs on my bag, sleeping sideways in a corner, extending myself across two rows of seats and just about every possible other position to get some sleep. None of them worked. Even though O’Hare has a history of Eames design, the Chicago airport’s oddly shaped seats and large armrests made it impossible for me to get comfortable. Of the hundreds of things that are frustrating with air travel, why would anyone be cruel enough to top it all off with terrible seating?

Air travelers in Paris
Air travelers in Paris attempt to sleep. (Flickr by Pinelife)

A few weeks before my experience in Chicago, Chris Noessel, a co-worker at Cooper, posted on this blog about slanty design (or what some Cooperistas call “design friction.”) The idea of “slanty design” came from an article by Russell Beale in which he described slanted reading tables at the Library of Congress that prevent visitors from setting down drinks and risking spills. Since the tables suck to eat on, they discourage visitors from bringing food that might ruin the library’s collection. (Beale’s article has a few more examples if you’re curious.)

The Library of Congress didn’t actually design their reading tables to prevent visitors from eating food, it just works out that way. But the chairs that I couldn’t sleep on at O’Hare were designed to prevent sleeping. The large armrests in-between each seat are intended to make sleeping suck so that people don’t sleep at airports.

There are plenty of other examples of design intended to prevent behavior. Speed bumps, for example, discourage speeding. Or, similar to the airport seats, some bus benches have ridges to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them. These things make a particular behavior suck to prevent it from happening.

Why it’s made to suck

Making conventional interactions suck seems counter-intuitive and cruel. But there are plethora of products and services that aim to suck at common expectations for good reason. Among the many possibilities, things that suck can lead to strength, fun, good business and can introduce friction to prevent improper usage.

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What happened to the iTunes 10 window controls?

iTunes has a long history of violating the Apple Human Interface Guidelines. In past releases, iTunes designers have removed the title bar and borrowed the brushed aluminum look from Apple hardware.

iTunes 10, released yesterday, carries on the tradition of divergence. This time, the designers have toyed with the window controls. As you can see below, the close, minimize and zoom buttons have shifted from their conventional horizontal arrangement to a vertical arrangement.


I can imagine stylistic and practical explanations for doing this. The new layout has a better visual feel to it, and it uses the space more efficiently. Still, it’s quite a bold departure from such a fundamental aspect of the Aqua interface standard. (The new volume control also violates the standards, but not quite so shockingly.)

Are we glimpsing a brave new world of window controls? What do you think? Read More

Hold that elevator!

On a recent research trip I stayed at the Holiday Inn in downtown Fresno, CA. The hotel was unremarkably average — clean and functional, if a little worn around the edges (a little like Fresno itself). There was one thing that struck me as unique — the elevators; specifically, their buttons. I’ve been in quite a few elevators over the years, but this was a first for me. The elevators had 4 buttons to control the doors: Two to close and two to open the doors.

One guess is that this arrangement was the result of a mistake, extra holes were filled with extra buttons for an expedient solution.

But, I prefer to think that this arrangement was the result of a heated argument about the iconography of the buttons — one person preferred the versions with a central line, the other held their ground that the non-lined versions were clearer. After weeks of argument, they broke the stalemate with this solution, “Let the user decide!” As a user in this circumstance, I can only say “Ouch!” Trying to keep the door open for someone approaching was a painful experience, and don’t get me started on the PB, PG & 2R buttons.

What do you all think? How did this happen? And have you seen examples of elevator madness? (If you have pictures, send them to me, and I’ll collect the best in a follow-up post.) Read More