In a nutshell, wayfinding is the way in which people orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.
The basic process of wayfining, involves four stages:
This is quite interesting, especially if we start to think about the application to interface design and how we can design better interfaces by aligning ourselves to these four stages of wayfinding.
In “A brief history of User Interfaces“, Eric Raymond makes a rather comical statement about how we dismiss some designers and their designs as “stupid”:
In software usability design, as in other kinds of engineering, it is seldom wise to dismiss an apparently clumsy or stupid design by assuming that the engineers of bygone days were idiots. Though engineers, being human, undeniably are idiots on occasion, it is far more likely in the normal course of events that a design you find ridiculous after the fact is actually an intelligent response to tradeoffs you have failed to understand.
It is quite possible that many designs are dismissed as ridiculous today because we fail to understand the real problem.
It’s also a good reminder that the stupidest person isn’t the one trying, but the one making the stupid statements…
“The Anti-Mac Interface” by Jakob Nielsen, is a phenomenal piece about the Mac and an alternative UI to the GUI. It’s an article that is more true today than what it was 20 years ago. Here’s a snippet out of the article:
…the next generation of users will make their learning investments with computers, and it is counterproductive to give them interfaces based on awkward imitations of obsolete technologies.
Instead, we need to develop new interface paradigms based on the structure of computer systems and the tasks users really have to perform, rather than paradigms that enshrine outmoded technology.
The way to advance the interface is not to develop ever-more-faithful imitations of the desktop, but instead to escape the limitations of the desktop especially as computers themselves become ubiquitous and are used away from the desk.
Yes, I know, this article was written 20 years ago in 1996…
I’ve been reading a lot about different user interface paradigms lately, especially in the context of the GUI. As I explored it’s limitations and its strengths, I came across, Christine Zmoelnig’s essay titled, The Graphical User Interface – A Time for a Paradigm Shift. It’s truly a fascinating read and I plan to quote from it quite heavily in the coming weeks as I explore this topic even more. But as introduction to this topic, I will quote this definition of a paradigm by Thomas Kuhn:
All crises begin with the blurring of one paradigm and the consequent loosening of the rules for normal research. On other occasions the problem resists even apparently radical new approaches. Then scientists may conclude that no solution will be forthcoming in the present state of their field. The problem is labeled and set-aside for a future generation with more developed tools. Or finally the case that will most concern us here, a crisis may end with the emergence of a new candidate for a paradigm and with the ensuing battle over its acceptance.
The last part, in particular, is rather interesting to me, especially if we considering the GUI and the battle against other interface paradigms such as speech and 3D, over market acceptance. It’s becoming more apparent that the GUI will go through a similar revolutionary process as what Kuhn describes here…
There’s enough evidence on Google that the best way to build a product is by building it from the perspective of the user. We can’t argue against that anymore.
But what struck me the other day, however, is that I can’t be user centered without being people centered. And that means really caring about people; including the people I work with.
The same questions I ask to make sure users are happy, I need to ask about the people I work with as well:
We all have the responsibility of being people centered. It’s not a job description. It’s being human.
Gordes is an ancient celtic fortified town built on the foothills of the Monts of Vauclusein, France. The narrow cobbled streets threading their way through tall houses and a castle firmly planted in it’s center, whisper the battles and sufferings of it’s inhabitants.
Multiple invasions, religious wars, two earthquakes, and a bombing at the end of of WWII, showed that the inhabitants were strong and brave enough to build a home that could withstand time.
Today, the village still stands on the same calcareous clay rock it was build on nearly a 1000 years ago and, with markets held every Tuesday, Gordes truly is an example of what Christopher Alexander refers to as “timeless”.
In A Timeless Way of Building, Christopher, an architect best known for his theories about design and reasoning that users know more about the buildings they need than any architect could, explains why traditional buildings, and villages such as Gordes, could withstand time with austerity:
There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way.
It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you feel alive, except by following this way.
This holds true for the digital world we are busy building right now as well and if there is one thing we can learn from architecture, a trade that is 1000’s of years old, it would be this:
It is not possible to make great products, or organisations, or ecosystems, digital spaces where you feel yourself and at home, except by understanding the people who are at the center of it.
While doing research for a post I’m busy with, I came across this great quote by Christopher Alexander from his book, The Timeless Way of Building:
“We have come to think of buildings, even towns as ‘creations’ — again thought out, conceived entire, designed… All this has defined the task of creation, or design, as a huge task, in which something gigantic is brought to birth, suddenly in a single act… Imagine, by contrast, a system of simple rules, not complicated, patiently applied, until they gradually form a thing … The mastery of what is made does not lie in the depths of some impenetrable ego; it lies, instead in the simple mastery of the steps in the process…”
It reminds me of the lean way in which we’ve come to build products lately. It doesn’t start out with a grand and complete blueprint where everything is perfectly in place from the beginning. It rather starts out with loose components of what we already know and exist. And then, slowly and patiently over time, we piece them together to form something that functions better than what otherwise would have been possible.
It’s strange how the end of things brings us to contemplation. Here we are again. 2014 is setting over the edge of an old year at a rate faster than the year before. What felt like a week a year ago, feels like days 2 years later. Time flies.
I don’t know how it works, but it does.
The older I get, the faster the swoosh seems to feel. The lines that connect time become blurry beyond recognition. I got married 9 months ago and started a new job not long after that. The rest is a vague and distant memory recalled only by turning back the pages of my journal and blog.
Two themes started to crystalise as I rolled back in time: 1.Manhood and 2.Solving problems.
13 of the 30 posts I wrote about in 2014 were either directly or indirectly related to solving problems as a designer. And numerous journal entries on manhood, strength, perseverance and leadership were inked down in bolded words.
It’s an understatement to say that manhood and problem solving are essential parts of designing products people will use. If I don’t want to solve problems, I shouldn’t be a designer and if I don’t want to be strong, I shouldn’t be a man.
Being a man and solving problems are the quintessential makeup of who I am.
As this year rolls over to another, it dawns on me that the coming one will be too short to dissipate on the uncertain eventuality of the “7 trends that will change the future forever!” Perhaps wearables will be the next big thing or perhaps Plus size phones will cannibalise the tablet. Perhaps. I don’t know.
What I do know is that as 2014 rolls over, I will clench my fists and fight to strengthen these 2 themes in my life. I will learn how to be a wiser problem solver and how to be a stronger man to my wife and colleagues.
Those are the things I believe will withstand the brevity of time. And those are the things I’m willing to break my skin for.
What will you fight for in 2015…
In his article “How to get away with Uber”, Bobbie Johnson makes quite a dismantling concluding statement about human behaviour and how Uber challenges that behaviour:
And that, in the end, is the real reason so many people hate Uber: Because whatever we do, we can’t stop ourselves from making it bigger and more successful and more terrifying and more necessary. Uber makes everything so easy, which means it shows us who, and what, we really are. It shows us how, whatever objections we might say we hold, we don’t actually care very much at all. We have our beliefs, our morals, our instincts. We have our dislike of douchebags, our mistrust of bad behavior. We have all that. But in the end, it turns out that if something’s 10 percent cheaper and 5 percent faster, we’ll give it all up quicker than we can order a sandwich.
I struggle to believe that this is true. I believe that we are more than reactors to what is handed to us. Uber is flourishing not because people would trade their morals and convictions to get a cheaper taxi but partly because they have done an exceptional job creating a great product. Sadly they have done so biting and bullying their way to the top.
Uber is still a teenager and teenagers do childish and immature things. Time will tell, but they will either learn from their misbehaviour and grow up to become an example to others or, they will stay a spoiled brat and maybe dropout.
I hope for the former…
For a moment I didn’t want to click on it but since I’ve been thinking about landing pages quite a lot lately, I decided to click on Justin Jackson’s article about tearing down Serial’s landing page. (Serial is a podcast that unfolds one nonfiction story, week by week, over the course of a season.)
I wasn’t surprised to find that indeed it was a tear down of Serial’s landing page. The main critique was against a copywriting mistake they made:
“…they’ve forgotten that when you’re trying to persuade someone, it can’t be about us, it has to be about them. Read it again, and look at the self-focused language:”
“…writing has to be focused on the reader. The story we weave can’t be about us; the central character of the story needs to be them.”
He then rewrites the copy.
It seems sound and innocent. But making the story about others is, in essence, making it about us. If we read Justin’s opening statement again, you’ll sense the contradiction: “…they’ve forgotten that when you’re trying to persuade someone, it can’t be about us, it has to be about them. Read it again, and look at the self-focused language.” It’s actually humorously contradictory. Read it again.
Persuasion is about making people do things you want them to do. There’s very little altruism in persuasion. No matter what story we write, when we want people to donate, buy or click, we will always put ourselves first.
No one puts it better than Victor Papanek:
“There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few of them…only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress other who don’t care.” Victor Papanek
If we are going to persuade people to do things, the very least we can do is to be real and authentic; not pretending they don’t know we care about ourselves first.
Whether it was intentional or not, I believe that’s what Serial did here…