There’s always something

I was preparing for an important meeting and a collection of things seemed to be falling off the rails. And, I found myself wondering what my output might have been if all the conditions had been perfect.

That’s when I thought about some of the other important presentations I’ve had to do in the past – and, you know what, there was always… something. Just looking at the last 3-4 months – I was sick with a bad throat during my final exams in my spring quarter and rushing to travel back home in my finals in the winter quarter (all student examples – sorry :-)).

There’s always something. We can dream about striking that perfect balance all we want. But, for the most part, we spend all our time in the “balancing.” The only trustworthy indicator of our performance level is our performance on a bad day.

So, if you get that opportunity to perform on your best day with perfect conditions, revel in it. It doesn’t happen often. But, when it does, it is magical.

On the other hand, if you feel most things are going wrong as you enter that important presentation, welcome to life. This is how we get made.

Bad design makes you look stupid

Flush toilets are not designed for men. I take particular issue with American flush toilets as they have an absurd amount of static water once you flush. As you can imagine, the combination of a high level of static water and water dropping from a height means the resulting physics isn’t pretty. I’ve joked about this issue for many a time now and, from the reaction I get from other males, I realize I’m not alone in this view.

Why, then, are flush toilets designed so bad? Well, I don’t know yet but I intend to find out. I guess my second question is – why don’t we just have urinals at home? I’m guessing men all over will appreciate that.

The deeper point here is that bad design makes users look stupid. So, if the users of your product/service are exhibiting stupid behavior, it is not their fault, it is yours. User error is regularly just a manifestation of poor design. A small tweak in design can fix the most absurd problems. For example, making sure the ATM card pops out before the cash comes out ensures users don’t walk away with the ATM card in the machine.

The flip side of this is – as a user, if you are unable to figure out what to do on an app or a website, it probably isn’t your fault. That hotel shower handle that gives no indication about which direction you need to turn to get the right water temperature? Definitely not your fault. Sadly, many designers’ biggest takeaway from Apple’s success in the past decades has been to make things pretty. The iPhone didn’t become the phenomenon it is because it is pretty (it definitely is pretty), it became the phenomenon it is because it is simple to use.

At the end of the day, great design is all about making things easier for the user. And, as we’re all designers – of experiences, events, and lives – and primary users of our products and services, it is important that we design processes and environments that, first and foremost, just work.