Good design good, bad design better?
In a nutshell
- Seeking new and unfamiliar experiences is a fundamental behavioural tendency in humans.
- But human-centered design is hell bent on making our lives easier, predictable and frictionless.
- Design that is too seamless runs the risk of losing its humanity.
Human beings are imperfect creatures and we can be slow to grasp innovative design. Skeumorphs appear everywhere to make things easier for our simple minds to grasp. And it was ever so – the car was such an unfamiliar and scary contraption that someone once had the bright idea of plonking a horse’s head on the front.
Until recently, making things look familiar was the route to making them easier. But now that we’ve got science to inform us, design can actually make things easier for people by understanding our hardwired behavioural traits and designing for them.
The core tenets of behavioural science have become embedded in design. There’s a catch though. Design has opted to use only one set of principles – those that are concerned with habitual behaviour and cognitive biases. For example, we’ve got good at designing websites with defaults that increase spend or take up and we have shaped product or service ranges and pricing through an understanding of choice architecture. We’ve learned that when you disrupt people’s habitual behaviour by changing what is familiar, there are gains (if you are trying to wean customers from your competitor) and potential losses if it causes your most frequent customers to re-evaluate their brand choices. Therefore, redesigning packaging is as likely to lose you customers as gain them, so design takes that into account.
The result has been a progressive move toward human-centered design. And we all know that humans just want an easy life, minimising effort. But, there is another consequence – sameness. And that’s equally true for products, services, website design or smartphones when the goal is an easy, seamless user experience.