Sunday, April 22, 2007

Requiem of the Swans

Here we are, at the end of the module, and here I am writing the swam song for my experience with user experience. Well, if I were asked what is the ONE important thing that I learnt from this module, it is that: Good Design is a State of Mind. All the stories about nirvana and samurais, has made me realised that the bottomline of good design is that it is an opinion. It is an opinion that you formulate about yourself, and it is an opinion that you have to sell to others, to make them believe that your design is a good design.
The one thing about that struck me throughout this module is how similar creating a user experience is to marketing. Essentially, its about looking for a niche in the market, looking to create an experience that would be in demand, and then finding ways to sell this experience to your target market.
The entire process of the project sorta reminds me of how people in big companies such as 3M would probably go about looking for ways to develop new, innovative products. It all starts with identifying a problem, or a need or a lack among your users. Then there is a need to understanding your users, who are you trying to market to, what would they want from an exprience, which we did through user profiling and persona creation. After which, we had to explore the product from multiple aspects, from affordance, to ergonomics, to branding and business strategies, before we considered prototypes, both low-fi and hi-fi, which would lead us to the final product.
One lesson that i learnt from this is that, developing a user experience is not so different from developing a new product, perhaps the only difference is the costs and monetary factors involved in the development of a product. Wheareas developing a user experience is more concerned with the end experience and emotion of the user, not so much about the bucks that are raked in in the end. But, I guess it would be safe to say that developing a successful user experience is a huge step towards developing a good product, but yet at the same time, it can be so much more. As user experience encompasses everything from the design of the product itself, to the emotions involved, to the brand loyalty and all the other non-measurable factors.
But the important thing to note about creating a user experience is that we cannot create experiences directly, since experiences are all personal and subjective to the users themselves, and we cannot directly control what we want them to experience. However, what we can do is to create primers, or cues, that will facilitate to them recalling emotional states or experiences, perhaps through colours, signs, sound, etc, to invoke the desired experience that we want our users to feel.
While "smokes and mirrors" highlights some of the weaknesses of teaching design as a science, that emperical research is crap, and that a good design is inherently recognizable, and i do agree to a large extent to it, I do have to say that it is not ENTIRELY true. I believe that design is AT LEAST teachable to some extent, such as the guildlines for colour choice, or negative space. Perhaps talented designers don;t have to be taught this, and perhaps we all know all these inherently, but the act of bringing these intuitive concepts out into the light and making them known, verbal and teachable, probably give, not-so-talented designers like myself, a much better picture of how to go about designing a good design and more things to consider while designing.
Perhaps, it will always be unfair, that the talentless will have to learn all these things, and yet cannot be as good as those who are naturally born with it, but i guess all things in this world adhere to this principle of unfairness. But if Maslow's hierarchy of needs is anything to go by, at least i can say that this course has helped me achieved a greater sense of self-actualization when it comes to design. And even though i may never be up to the mark, in raw talent, at least i furthered my abilities the best that I could. Still, if samurais are anything to go by, then for me to become a good designer, i must first believe in myself. So, my first step would be telling myself, "I am a good designer, and my designs rock." Now, I would need to market that to the rest of the world.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Through the Looking Glass

In "Smokes and Mirrors," the author claims that design is more of an art than a science, and that emperical research is nothing short of bullshit for measuring design. I think the man has a point. In its essence, the article reinforces the seemingly irrelevant stories of nirvana, samurais, enlightenment and design, which after a LITTLE thinking, I realised that the bottomline of all this is: Being a good designer is all about belief. Which means, even though there are some guildlines to good design and blah blah, in the end, it comes down to the mind. You can only be a good designer if you believe that you are a good designer.

In the terms of philosophy, good design is like true opinion, something that one must believe and make others believe in as well, and not so much about knowledge, something that can be picked up and passed down. In other words, talentless chums like me will propably never become the inherently good designers, as much as i am an appreciator. So, the next best thing that I can do will be marketing.

The implications of this article bear heavily on the aspects of psychology, branding and marketing. And I have personally always been a believer of marketing. In fact, the article only served to reinforce that good design in our society is mainly a matter of pooled opinions, that is context and time sensitive, and seriously emperical research has nothing to do with it.

Take the ipod for example, people will say how creative is better and all that crap, but when it comes to it, ipod wins partially due to the design of the device and how the design and branding is marketed to the masses. Personally, I heard of the very ipod before i saw it, and my friends were telling me how cool it was, how sleek it looked and all that crap. And honestly, when i first saw it, I wasn;t very impressed. I mean, yes, it was cool and all, but definitely underwhelming as compared to how my friends described it.

But things changed when i bought my ipod mini. Suddenly, I was a believer in the brand and i was not afraid to flaunt it, or feel the sexy curves of the little baby, or admire its design. The difference between the two mindsets before and after were all due to the marketing and branding of the ipod, they sold their brand to me, and they made me BELIEVE that it was a good design. And honestly, even if Creative were to do all the emperical research in the world and now tell me that their mp3 players are more ergonomically designed or what not, it still wouldn';t change my mind about which design is superior, underlining the implication of the article.

After reading the article, I also started to think that a good design would probably be inherently obvious, and intuitively distinguishable from the get-go, and not need all the research to reinforce it. This relates back to the first time i saw the motorola razr on a poster. I remember seeing the poster and IMMDIATELY telling myself, "wow, cool phone." It was only later, that I noticed the words at some corner saying, "voted best phone of 2005." And seriously, i wouldn't really care even if the words wouldn;t there, since i would still think it is a cool design.

Hence, these examples only further highlight that design is so much more of an art than a science, and all the research in the world, will probably not amount to the same weightage as creating a good design, that will strike an affective chord within a person, and generating a positive respones from the person. But just as art, good design is often a relative experience, and is considered good as long as there are enough people who believe in it to be good, and are willing to advocate its good-ness.