Category: ux

Civility

About 20 years ago, I was at the bookstore and stumbled upon The Ice Palace That Melted Away: Restoring Civility and Other Lost Virtues to Everyday Life by Bill Stumpf, the designer of Herman Miller’s Aeron chair. I quickly snatched up the book and could not wait to dig into it. Oh, the things I’d learn, peering into the mind of one of the world’s foremost designers.

Wait a minute.

This isn’t a book about design. All he talks about is civility, being nice to people and how the modern world is crashing down all around us because we’re so rude to each other.

What a load of malarky. Or is it?

Admittedly, I did not finish the book. (Truth be told, there are more books than I care to count that I have not finished, but they sure look good up on my shelf.) I did not learn a darn thing from this book. I didn’t get into the head of a genius, rather I spent my time on this crazy rant about manners. Phooey.

20 years later, and the lessons from the book resonate with me as much or more than just about any book I have read on design. Much in the same way Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World should be require reading for all design students, Mr Stumpf’s short treatise should be as well.

I wrote a short piece dealing with a lack of civility a few weeks ago and this is a follow up. Actually, that piece was more about courage than anything else, but a lack of understanding, manners, respect, courtesy and decency was the impetus for the story.

Today, being kind, thoughtful and polite is more important than ever. Especially in our modern civilization where those qualities are quickly falling by the wayside.

Any form of design — whether it be a product, a site, a piece of communication or whatever — basic manners should always be a top consideration. At all costs, make sure you are reaching the right people and treat them with the utmost respect. Always.

Charles Eames once quipped that the role of the designer was similar to that of the host of a dinner party (I paraphrase). Not only do you want your guests to have a wonderful meal, but you want them to feel comfortable and completely at ease, ready to soak up a good conversation and wonderful evening.

This should always be the same objective of every design brief.

UX, more than any other design discipline, should hold this rule as paramount. There is no faster way to disengage with a user than to irritate them, annoy them, talk down to them, make assumptions about them or make them feel anything less than important. The outcome of good UX should be totally engaging, or in a more civil world, welcoming.

The Pink Pussy movement last year was hailed as a triumph of branding because it rallied a huge women’s movement. Everyone has the right to voice their opinions and they should. But the branding and messaging they choose for the movement is not only offensive, it is just plain wrong. For anyone who disagrees with me, please explain the symbolism and point of the messaging to my 12 year old son. What they were projecting was not inclusiveness, it was for shock value and it was divisive. I also did not like seeing the way it made my two daughters feel. That, IMO, was counter to everything they stood for.

Stumpf’s book is more relevant than ever.

I do not think we are as polite as we once were. Maybe we never were all that polite. I’ve always contended that drivers in my part of town are rude, although over the past few years they do seem to have gotten much worse.

How can we change this?

It goes much more beyond a simple act of kindness to a stranger. We need civility on a much larger scale more than ever. As designers and professional communicators, it is our greatest responsibility to promote understanding, offer a friendly hand and speak in a kind voice.

What are steps we can take to help create a more civil world?

What’s old is new and what’s new is old

Have you ever noticed that most stories have themes and undertones from other stories previously told?

And don’t so many of the characters in stories seem like you’ve met them before in another story? Their situations and how they handle themselves might be different, but you can see similar traits in characters whether in literature, TV, movies or even video games.

There is nothing new under the sun. I always heard that was attributed to Bill Bernbach addressing an ad club back in 1960s. What I like is that he lifted that line from The Old Testament.

My observations above are nothing new. Archetypes are nothing new. But thinking about characters and stories got me to thinking.

As designers around the world are dropping their traditional practices and jumping on the UX/UI bandwagon, something interesting is happening.

After all the (design) thinking, all the cogitating on new solutions to engage users in new and exciting ways, at the end of the day most of these solutions are all the same. They feel the same, and depending on the platform might even look the same. So much work goes into solving different problems with similar solutions.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Consider this: When trying to engage with with people at a deeper level, new might not be the best answer, because as humans we are naturally inclined to want to hear the same story over again.

And over and over and over.

Think about it. What other explanation is there for the romantic-comedy genre of film? Zillions of movies, similar plots, same outcomes. But people love them.

We want to see friendly faces we can identify with. Again, this is how we as humans are coded.

So this leads me to ask: When it comes to designing digital experiences, are there only so many paths we can lead users down? Are there a finite number of useful solutions? Further, do we want to engage with people in ways that they might not be comfortable for them?

I’m not arguing for the status quo. Rather, we like familiarity and having confidence to know that we will easily be able to make our way through an increasingly more complicated world. Shouldn’t the role of a designer be to help facilitate that journey?

Rantcliff

Lately I’ve been digging into gobs of design thinking and UX theory. It’s not just about improving myself and getting skilled-up, rather I’ve been told on no uncertain terms that my college diploma is no longer worth the paper it’s printed on and I’d better get with the times.

So here are a few conclusions (Note: The opinions below are expressly those of the author. Any resemblance to rational thought is purely accidental) on what I have learned:

UX is a bunch of bunk. If you have a thorough design education, UX is already baked into your education. My advice is to quit doing tutorials and get to work.

UX is about making unimaginative, introverted ne’er do wells feel important and part of the process. Frankly, if you aren’t contributing you’re just in the way. Move along, please.

Most UX designers cannot even define UX. “Yeah, I do UX. I work in Sketch.” Phooey.

Design Thinking is bunk, too! “The world needs more people with Liberal Arts Degrees.” Those sissy voices might be right, but a bunch of Gen Y-Z’s standing around cogitating doesn’t help anyone or anything.

You know who invented these two abominations? 3M – the people who make Post-It Notes. You know who else? Sharpie! Google Design Thinking or UX and look at all the pictures that come up. Post-It Notes marked up by a bunch of hipsters with Sharpie’s.

NO! You know who really invented Design Thinking? The guys who make black foam boards, that’s who! Every office in the world uses Post-It’s. Every elementary school art class uses bazillions of Sharpie’s. It’s gotta be the foam board guys. There aren’t enough science fairs out there to turn a profit on foam boards, so they had to invent some other whack way of selling more boards. I’ll bet if you dig even deeper, the foam board guys went to the Kelley brothers at IDEO and got them to come up with the whole Design Thinking thing and told them thy could have it during the fee negotiations.

Regarding all of the statements above, know that I practice Design Thinking and UX dang near every day. Perhaps I’ve had too much coffee today.