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Likewise, it is equally easy
to focus on the mechanics:
the technology that makes
the product possible.
Easier not because the work
is easier (it isn’t).
But it is easier to talk or
demonstrate or even think
about how a product looks
or will be built than it is to
design how it will work.
This isn’t to say we should
ignore aesthetics or technology,
because that would be foolish.
The best products
are designed from
Meaning, everything flows
How the product acts (feedback)
The tasks the product allows users to do
Maximising the abilities of the product
A focus on actions it (you) want to
engender through use
An honest job of design
should flow from the inside
out, not from the outside in.
Henry Dreyfuss, 1955
We mold clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that makes the vessel useful.
Tao Te Ching
The best products
are plug and play
have personal or professional value
offer clear affordances/instruction
put functionality on the correct platform
have responsive feedback
...or something radically better
make it difficult to make mistakes
are aware of context of use
have moments of delight
respect time and effort
The best way to achieve most
of those characteristics is by
focusing on behaviour as the
But then we’ve got this problem.
If The Interface is The Product,
how do we design from the inside out?
A lot of products have been made
from the inside out that you’d never
want to own or use.
Avoid what Nicholas Nova
calls the utilitarian fallacy:
“a tendency to think that people
want/must have products to
optimize their lives.”
Behaviour can be
a major product
Differentiators have traditionally
But we can make behaviour the
differentiator. In not only how
the product behaves, but the
behaviour it engenders.
Behaviour is one defense
People love features.
We enjoy comparing
products side-by-side and
choosing the one with the
Obligatory Don Norman Quote
[P]eople are not willing to pay for a
system that looks simpler because it
looks less capable…[Make] the actual
complexity low, the real simplicity
high. That’s an exciting design
challenge: make it look powerful
while also making it easy to use.
Companies love features, too.
It gives them something to easily
market and talk about. It also allows
them to simply replicate what their
competitors are doing without having
to come up with real differentiators.
It’s easy to replicate features.
But is is hard to copy how features
behave if care is taken to design
How does the system behave
when users engage with it?
In other words, what is the
The same feature can feel
completely different based
on how it responds and how
it is accessed.
What activities does the
product need to support?
Especially figure out what is
the core activity. This will
determine the product’s
The core activity also
determines the Hero Task.
What behaviour do you want
to encourage? Discourage?
It is hard to change learned behaviour.
Once people get used to do something
one way, especially if they do it very
regularly, it is hard to get them to
change. It is often easier to change the
non-human parts of the system than it is
to change human behaviour.
It can be helpful when concepting
to consider metaphor. If this
product was an action, what
would it be?
There is a big difference between:
Design a shower
Design something to clean a person
How would it work
if it was magic?
Where does your mobile phone’s
Where does Twitter live?
Where does a product like Last.fm live?
Should the controls be digital, physical, or both?
When and where will the feature be used?
What’s the feature’s priority?
Does it need to be available all the time? Frequently?
How much resources should be spent?
Will a physical control ruin the form? Will a screen?
How tangible should the feature be?
Does the feature need a visible presence (affordance)?
This can also spread cross-platform too.
Start from the behaviour, and then
figure out what should control it: the
physical form, UI elements on a screen,
or even gestures in space. For users, the
interface is the system, and they don’t
care which discipline(s) designed it,
only that it looks good and works well.
This is how we overcome the
Behaviour drives the form
and the mechanics.
So am I saying form
Somewhat. But don’t quote me.
We’re often not making
things better, we’re just
making things different.