Friday, June 06, 2008
There's a saying in my field: function over form.
Whenever we're developing a website I'm adamant that we make every function work properly -- pages, links, images -- and we make sure that every page uses simple language and as few layers as possible.
The reason: Users shouldn't have to guess what you do.
The best sites pass the mom test, which for me is literal. Whenever I'm working on a project, I make sure that I send versions to my mother and father for their feedback. If they can't figure it out, we scrap it.
Yet companies continue to pile on layers of design in the hopes they can separate themselves through brand and image, assuming that readers will 1) take the time to understand what they do and 2) if they can't figure it out, they must be stupid.
That mentality is astounding. I was sitting in a packed panel at South by Southwest Interactive last March listening to a designer from Apple describe his process. It went like this: do what you want, ignore your managers and don't worry about the users because good designers are artists.
I'll be honest. I dislike Apple a great deal for reasons that aren't important here, but in just that moment I understood why Apple had lost its way. Die hard Apple users may believe Microsoft and the PC are inferior, but the masses disagree. I'd argue that's because the design of the PC -- with its well-known typewriter language, for instance -- is far superior.
Bad design is anything that makes a user work. And if you do, it's not the user who is stupid.