User experience design with Aral

Safety dip

Before I start on this little rant, its worth pointing out this is following a talk from Aral Balkan’s talk at Thinking Digital 2013. I have still yet to write my review of the best talks and my own experience with Perceptive Radio but I had to stop and moan about Aral’s talk.

Aral is a friend and I like him a lot but even in the early days I disagreed with him on so many things.

Aral showed many examples of really bad user experience design, many where they got the focus wrong.

User experience bugs me, I agree with a lot but then there are many examples where it seems like a simple no brainier. I would generalise what Aral was showing but I lost my notes by accident in the wifi handover (hoping there still on my tablet and just need to load up evernote and sync the notes. So as I was saying user experience is important but they sometimes go too far…

Here’s something I tweeted last year…

“Frankly this is the worst keypad layout I’ve seen in the wild. #Metrolink should be a shamed of this! http://yfrog.com/odgevclj”

Aral spoke about washing machines and how complex they are. He suggested all you need is a some places to put the washing powder and fabric conditioner. A button or two to maybe start a programme and thats it. Well no I disagree. My mum is a genius with the washing machine and she knows exactly what to put in for the weight and volume of clothes. To be such a expert required time and effort, shes proud than shes mastered the washing machine.

Having a single button machine would rob my mother of her mastery of that machine.

Now I imagine Aral would say, for the bulk of people, all they want to do is get there clothes clean and they don’t really care. And he would be right. I generally don’t care but robbing people of the ability to master a system or device seems a real shame and I’d say is criminal.

After Arals talk and a slight break for audience clapping. He launched into how he’s been involved in helping the next generation to learn how to get their digital skills. How ironic that most of us got our start by mastering the computer by ultimately being geeky.

If you subscribe to the idea that we are almost all geeky about something (coding, design, cars, cooking, paintings, trains, stamps, celebrities, tv shows, beer, phones, films, cocktails, gardening, farming, sports, etc). Most of these require experience, understanding and mastery. Robbing someone of this seems at least to me anti-human.

Not that I’m saying you should have to go through an ordeal to get a ticket for the train/metro/tram. The example of the CTA machine is a total joke, I remember looking at it when I last was last in Chicago and thought what level of hell does this machine come from?

Heat control

I would say the showers in most modern hotels is up as a example of a great user experience because they have that recommended option but if you know better you can press the button and get even more heat. Yes the button protects you from burning but it can also be easily bypassed. Now thats my kind of user experience.

Aral mentioned a few other things which had my fingers tapping.

“Design can not be democratic, design is opinionated and full of assumptions.”

Design can not be democratic? I say rubbish, designers work in small groups and collaborate on problems all the time. I would go as far as to say design in isolation is art. Design doesn’t have to be opinionated, in actual fact user experience design is about designing around the accordances of the user. This means working around them and not making assumptions…

Anyway everything I’ve said is just my view and I’m sure I would say the same to Aral’s face. Looking forward to next time we meet and of course 🙂 Which will be soon… Good talk even though I was screaming inside 🙂

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.