Design Eye: It's not quite that simple
May 19, 2004 at 11:27 AM
Here is a rather comical post from Design by Fire entitled Design Eye for the Usability Guy. The post makes light of the whole design vs. usability issue. I wish it was as simple as depicted in this article, however it is far from it. Design should be about solving problems, not creating them. This article takes a stab at that but oversimplifies the issues that surround good design and usability.
Interesting take. The point of the article was to show how a modest amount of effort in following good design practices can help in the final result to achieve clearer communication. Something that many in the research and usability field need to take more seriously with regards to their delivarables. Is that an oversimplification? Not in my opinion. It's an editorial piece, not a paid consulting gig. Trust me, if we were getting paid to do it, the end result would have been far more significant. In fact, to say it's an oversimplification in such a short little snippet of a side post seems rather ironic, don't you think?
Look, it's not all about making light of the whole design vs. usability issue. We're trying to show the benefit of design in usability if anything. I can say that I took this project very seriously, despite its light side. I'm well versed in the amout of effort it takes to make a site usable and frankly I think the Web version we made here is much more usable than most of the stuff on Nielsen's site. Then again, in the absense of usability data you only have best guesses. I honestly think those best guesses made for a better document. Design can help usability. That is what we're trying to show here. We're not taking a single thing away from usability, just trying to bring another perspective to the table.
I never said anyone was trying to take something away from usability. I simply said it was an oversimplification of the problem as a whole. Sure dotted links and illustrated icons will make something a better experience, but is it really going to be more usable? It's debatable. Likewise, take your average "over-designed" site, is removing some of the "fluff" and underlining the links going to make it a better experience? Again, it's debatable. To me good sites exemplify both good design AND good usability. This is something both the design community and the usability community need to understand, but have failed to do so for whatever reasons. Making a post such as this is like hitting low hanging fruit, it's easy to make fun and show someone how to do something better, it's a lot harder to actually solve the root of the whole problem. That is my point.
I'm sorry Nick, I don't get your point. What we're trying to do here is get a message across that usability and design should go hand-in-hand. What's wrong with that? Low hanging fruit? Agreed. But that is one mother-f'n huge mellon. We're talking Jakob Nielsen here and frankly I think we took his stuff and made it easier to use. I honestly believe that and to me it's a pretty big deal. Sure, to someone like you, who "gets it" it might not seem like much, but to a designer (or marketer, or CEO) who reads anything Jakob writes as law it might be an eye-opener. Let me ask you this -- do you think my Web version is more usable than what Jakob has on his site? I sure as hell think so. Look, we're not only "making fun" of Jakob. We're showing how a little bit of design can really help users and, at the same time, we're advocating user-centered design to an audience who might not normally give a damn. Sure, it's an oversimplification. Whatever. The CSS Zen Garden could be considered an "oversimplification" of every day CSS problems. Doesn't make it any less useful.
"To me good sites exemplify both good design AND good usability. This is something both the design community and the usability community need to understand, but have failed to do so for whatever reasons." It's one thing for people to say "good design AND good usability." I've said that a thousands times on the record. I also try and make DxF a place the exemplifies that in practice. So, to me when I read this sidebar, it sounds like you think that DxF somehow doesn't exemplify that, and that the article itself was surface purely level. (I don't think it was, but that's my biased opinion.) You also seem to imply the work that was done in the article to redesign just that one example of Nielsen's guidelines is somehow not "good design" and "good usability." Otherwise, why make the comment in the first place? "...it's a lot harder to actually solve the root of the whole problem" Which would be?...
Keith: I'm sorry Nick, I don't get your point. What we're trying to do here is get a message across that usability and design should go hand-in-hand. What's wrong with that? Nothing, thats my same point. What I didn't really care for is how the article simplified the whole thing down to a few graphical elements. Don't get me wrong, if I didn't like the article I wouldn't have linked it... There are far too many articles that I pass up for one reason or another. I think it makes some good points, but really doesn't dig deep enough. Andrei: You also seem to imply the work that was done in the article to redesign just that one example of Nielsen's guidelines is somehow not "good design" and "good usability." Not at all. I am just saying it (design vs. usability, nothing to do with the example the article uses) is a bit more complicated than what is communicated in the article. Thus "I wish it were that easy" ...the overall direction of your point is something I agree with, I just wished it could have 1) been taken more seriously and 2) gone into way more depth.
Nick -- fair enough, but...read my peice, I'm not just "simplifiing it down to a few graphical elements" -- in fact I removed graphics from it. True. Didier added those litte "bugs" and I feel they worked well, but the Web design I offered up is sans-graphics besides those. Look at the code, read the reasoning,...there is much more in there besides just "design"...
Again, I am not really talking about this redesigned version vs. jakob's version. I am talking about the overall problem of usability vs. design.
Cool. I guess my "problem" is the "vs" part. Design for the Web should never be at odds with usability. Period. That is what we're trying to showcase here...
I agree keith... believe me I would LOVE to see this bickering stop. At least you only have to experience this small battle... I have been in the middle of the IA vs. ID / UX battle as well and it's almost as ugly.