The most effective user interfaces aren't invisible. They're sneaky.

The 'best' user interfaces (UIs) are invisible.

Catchy statement, right? After all, UIs like those are the ones you don't notice, cause you're busy getting stuff done.

Except that it isn't true.

The most effective UIs are the ones that make it easy, and even pleasurable for you to do what THEY want you to do.

And what a UI wants you to do may not be what you want to do. (I'll leave the question of 'best for whom' aside for now.)

For example...

Casino UI
Ahh, hello human, I want you to stay with me, and spend money continuously, for as long as possible, so that my owners can profit from you. :D

Human
I want to win! Winning makes me feel great! I'm sure my next big win is just around the corner!
This is rather different from you, the human, saying, I want to stay in this place and spend money continuously, for as long as possible.


Online Shopping UI (E.g. Fashion)
Hi there human, I want you to desire everything I have on offer, and spend as much money as possible, so I'm gonna make buying as easy as possible. As far as I'm concerned, you can't buy too much! :D

Human
I wanna look good to other humans! And I don't wanna be ripped off while I... ooh shiny! I need this! And this! And this! Ooh and this!



Clinical UI (E.g. Doctor)
Hey doc, I want you to accurately record all the relevant information about your patients, so that your patients can get the best care you're able to provide. :D

Human
I want to make sure that I get everything down accurately, so that my colleagues and I are able to help our patients achieve the best outcomes possible.


Usability is ethically neutral - UI design isn't

There's an assumption that UIs that are user-friendly, and 'delightful' have our best interests at heart. From the examples above, this obviously isn't always true. It may not even often be true.

Casino UI is a great example of conflict between what we want, and what the UI wants us to do. We appear to be travelling on the same 'journey', but at the end of the day, the relationship is parasitical at best, and adversarial at worst.

Online Shopping UI has a less toxic relationship with us, as users. At least the UI isn't expressly designed to exploit our human weaknesses for profit. As a merchant's proxy, the UI very reasonably wants to make its goods attractive to us, and make it easy for us to buy stuff.

Clinical UI is what we tend to assume we're getting, even when that trust is unwarranted. It embodies the classic concept of 'best UI'. What Clinical UI wants us to do works hand in hand with what we want to achieve for our patients.

But even if the usability of all three UIs is the same, the ethical contrast between the three UI designs couldn't be more different.

When it comes to usability, it's important to remember that there's no moral value attached to how easy something is to use. Moral value comes into existence when ease-of-use and pleasure is harnessed to directing specific behaviours.

When we look at it that way, it's pretty easy to say: Casino UI is evil, Online Shopping is neutral, and Clinical UI is good.

UX and UI design are essentially the design of systems, products, and interfaces that encourage, reinforce, and reward specific user behaviours.

Whether the outcomes of these specific behaviours are beneficial or harmful to us - as users - is highly dependent on why the product was created in the first place.

So the next time someone tells you that all you do as a designer is 'make pretty buttons', tell them that the pretty buttons are just a small, unthreatening part of designing reward systems for sneaky mind control. ;)

UX Rant: Oversimplification and overgeneralisation... plus supportive technology!

This post annoyed me so much that I actually left a comment!

<.< A nugget rarely comments on design blogs, for some reason...

It's a nice, ranty comment, so I've reproduced it here, for my Rant Museum! ^_^

This article kind of annoyed me, possibly because it’s too general, hyperbolic, and somewhat preachy.

It’s all well and good to say:
We will design processes, not screens.
We will design systems, not individual pieces.
We will design less “using,” and more getting results.

But…
How do you propose we ‘design processes’, WITHOUT designing the screens, assuming that the medium is digital, on a screen?

How do you propose we ‘design systems’, WITHOUT designing the individual pieces?

How do you design ‘more getting results’ without LOOKING at the ‘using’ process?

It’s all very well to say, users just want things to magically happen!

Sure they do.

But only in very narrow fields, or very very wide budgets and fields (self driving cars, container automation, subway train scheduling) can you implement something that allows that kind of responsibility-free magic, while absolving users of responsibility.

In many fields, we still REQUIRE the user to go through the process, interact with the product, perform myriad actions, because the onus of responsibility and decision must lie upon them. Because the interactions aren’t simple, and may cause harm. (I currently work in enterprise healthcare software.)

For me, as a designer, what I’d love to see more of (and to work on more of) is the ‘supportive’ system. A good example of this is computer-aided Chess Grandmasters. Where the sum of the two is superior to either one alone, even if the goal is still ‘winning’.

Computer-assisted healthcare professionals, with the goal being better patient care and outcomes. Now that’s something I want to see happen, but it’s still going to involve work on the part of the user, as well as the computer (the supportive system). And that’s the way it should be.


The Flat Design Trend & Silly Catty Designer Behaviour aka I <3 Eli Schiff

Today we are told we can rest assured that visual design is no longer so vacuous and superficial, due to the advent of flat design.

I take a different stance. 'Pure veneer' is not an insult in my book. Quite the opposite, it is the very definition of visual design. Thinking visual design is anything but superficial not only requires a profound level of ignorance, but it indicates an incredibly limited view of what visual communication can accomplish.

These rationalizations by newly turned modern minimalists are incredibly telling. If prominent practitioners are being honest with us in claiming that visual design was plagued by harmful decoration only up until the advent of flat design, then they are admitting that for years, for the history of the GUI, and perhaps even the entire history of design itself, designers have been putting on a sham project in order to dupe corporations.

Worse still, claims of visual design's insignificance tell us that design leaders never took their craft seriously. It truly undermines their credibility that it took the arrival of flat design for them to treat the entire spectrum of roles in product design with respect. Of course, as soon as that happened, they graduated from respecting traditional interface design principles.

This so-called 'maturation' in the vast majority of the design industry is in this way a major indictment of the professional history of these practitioners. If anyone should be condemned, it should not be those accused of the crime of visual design, but those practitioners who treat their job as frivolous.

Perhaps the design world breeds a form of narcissism due to its nature as a winner-take-all economy. That would explain the logic of this race to the bottom in which designers feel compelled to attack their craft before others assume they are 'bullshitters' too. In the words of Dr. Sam Vaknin:

By pre-empting society’s punitive measures and by self-flagellating, the narcissist is actually saying: 'If I am to suffer unjustly, it will be only by my own hand and no one else's.'

It is this masochistic status-striving that I find so ugly in this industry. That he who discredits his own craft is the most pious. That the most respected designer is the one who disowns beauty. This perpetual need to be the first to assign irrelevancy to one's own professional practice is the true impetus behind much of the puritanism of modern minimalist avant gardism.

- From Eli Schiff's last article in an amazing 5 part series, Fall of the Designer

Details way better than I could have how the unnerving thing about 'flat is the bestest and the coolestestest and the maturestestest' is in truth paying only lip service to serving our users' needs, while actually serving as a designer's wank.

Go read it, read it all!

Subtraction.com - If it looks like a cow, swims like a dolphin and quacks like a duck, it must be enterprise software

Funny post by Khoi Vinh! The post itself isn't particularly good (though funny), but the comments section is very long, and has some real gems.

Since I'm now working on enterprise software, it's suddenly really, really easy to tell from the comments, who's actually been there and done that, too.

The dynamics of power when it comes to the users vs purchasers of enterprise software was one of the hardest things for me to adjust to initially, when coming from B2C agencyland, as it were.

These two comments really stood out for me, but if you bother to trawl through the whole lot, there are a couple more good ones. :)

If you've worked on enterprise software at all, your head will be nodding and nodding like one of those bobbly dogs...

Random subconcious / unintentional sexism is the best sexism!

A random user generator! It's a really nice idea / tool! Except the execution is slightly disturbing.

In no particular order:
  • Both male and female are apparently male, since male is the default
  • But look! Anton Andrews, presumably male male... he likes creating stuff! He makes 'fun and creative' things!
  • Now look at Katie McCoy, presumably (fe)male... (s)he likes consuming things. And also running. Work? Why would a (fe)male worry their pretty little head on something like that, when (s)he can have chocolates and then run them off? With puppy love too! Cause that's just what a warm, nurturing (fe)male type wants, together with the chocolates, and the running...

._.

LICEcap by Cockos Inc, a free, GIF screencast app that's as awesome as its name is awful.

Sample GIF from Mars - a web business intelligence tool for community pharmacies - that we recently launched at Minfos.

I recorded this as a PoC to show my colleagues, but it's had the fortunate effect of making me realise that the way we've implemented that checkbox is pretty bad right now. It shouldn't dismiss the dropdown menu the moment the checkbox is checked, but only upon the user clicking 'Apply Settings'. Otherwise (as you can see), it's quite horridly disorienting.

Get this wonderful, shiny LICEcap tool.

It doesn't have to be flat or skeuomorphic. It 'just' has to be appropriate. ._.

“We made a conscious decision to embrace modern typographic design and avoid the excesses of skeuomorphism. But like skeuomorphism, flat design also has excesses.”

Thus was born what might be called (with apologies to Duarte, who never used this term) “quasi-flat design,” which is now fairly well entrenched across all of Google’s products.

“Tactile cues are important in touch interfaces, giving users a sense of what they can expect that’s touchable, and how it’s going to behave,” he continued. “It’s not just good from a familiarity perspective; It also touches the fundamental reptile parts of our brain, which knows that is a thing and it has identity and mass and lives in relationship to other things.”

From a brilliant interview with Matias Duarte, Head of design at Android, by Christopher Mims.


The Lords of Vendorbation - zeldman.com

I have just started working in a very large multinational organisation (60k+ employees), having previously worked in a 4 staff micro SME. I am shocked at the amount of money wasted on systems with such poor quality web based interfaces that no-one seems to be able to use them properly. No thought is given to the user interface and usability of a system, as long as it somehow meets the functional requirements. Apparently they don’t include being able to finish a task in the system without phoning the helpdesk.

I now know how spoiled the world of freelancers and SMEs is when it comes the quality of the software used. I consider it a real privilege to have used tools such as Basecamp or WordPress when I look at the festering piles of sh*t that are now forced upon me.

And that is the crux of the matter. I have no choice so there is no incentive for the provider to produce something usable. It’s something I remember Nielsen writing about probably more than a decade about: most menuing systems in gadgets are so poor because once you’ve bought the gadget you’re locked in. Whereas on the web if you can’t use something, you go somewhere else.

We now have the exception that proves that rule: Websites that are forced up on you due to a choice you can’t easily reverse are universally crap. Examples include your child’s school’s website and your employer’s intranet.

- Robin, commenter, Lords of Vendorbation


When you buy a UX designer, what are you actually buying?

Once, to do web design you had to be a T-shaped person. This is defined as a person who knows a little bit about many things and a lot about one thing. Imagine a programmer who also understands a bit about business models and some interface design. But as our product complexity grows, we need P and M shaped people–people with multiple deep specialties. To design great user experiences, you need to specialize in a combination of brand management, interaction design, human-computer factors and business model design. Or you could be part of a team. The term UX was welcomed because we finally had an umbrella of related practices.

Of course, we don’t all belong to the same version of that umbrella. We all bring different focuses under the umbrella, different experiences, mindsets, and practices. While we can all learn from each other, we can’t always be each other.

But trouble started when our clients didn’t realize it was an umbrella, and thought it was a person. And they tried to hire them.

- User Experience Go Away, by Dave Malouf, emphasis mine.

FWIW, Malouf's definition is pretty close to my own, in terms of what's needed. =)