Thursday, March 03, 2011

Apple's DNA (or why they seem to just get it)

This is worth repeating. It's in Apple's DNA that technology is not enough. It's tech married with the liberal arts and the humanities. Nowhere is that more true than in the post-PC products. Our competitors are looking at this like it's the next PC market. That is not the right approach to this. These are post-PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC, more intuitive. 
-- Steve Jobs, March 2, 2011 (at the end of the iPad 2 unveiling.)
Sure, these post-PC devices need to be easier to use than a PC.  But, why can't a PC be easier to use than a PC?  Reader, think about what you do today and who your audience is.  Are you doing the same thing you've always done?  Or are you actively working to make things easier, more pleasant, more enjoyable for your audience?

I did not realize I had an opinion on this.  You probably don't.

I was recently involved at work on a discussion about user experience.  The speaker wanted to talk about technical constraints inherent in the system -- Javascript won't let you do this, AJAX causes this type of interaction, etc.  I looked around the room.  It was just me and my technical peers.  No marketers, no design people.

To me, this seemed extremely backwards.  I tried to suggest that design had to be at the front of any new user experience work.  That we needed to build a framework.  That if all we did was give developers and vendors and the QA team a checklist.  Also, gives them some flexibility to read between the lines, to capture an essence or ethos, to figure out what to do when the rules aren't specifically stated out.
 If an asynchronous element on a page takes longer than 1.3 seconds to load, a spinny thing must appear on the screen to indicate that it's still loading.  (Not a progress bar.)  That spinny thing must be on a white background and be colored #002200 (may be displayed as Pantone 433C in a printout) and it must have 36 radial arms each 10 pixels tall and 4 pixels in thickness with tapered ends and be offset by 5 pixels from the midpoint.  Each arm must fade out at 20% per the appearance of each new arm. A full rotation of the spinny thing must occur every .75 seconds in a clockwise direction.
I can teach my daughter to memorize 6+7 and 9+4 or I can teach her Doubles-Plus and Bridge-to-Ten so she can immediately feel confident that she can take on 7+8 and 9+8 even if she's never seen them before.

Doesn't mean we eliminate the rules, but if we don't first talk about the heart and soul (or the why) then it's not something they live and breathe.

It's why Apple is as successful as it is. They know the experience starts with the visual design. Whether it's their emails, their website or their actual products. They look good, they feel good. They have a certain commonality to them that says "Play with me."

Dell's taken its own approach with the darker colors, brushed metal and angular lines that suggest power, seriousness, business.  Microsoft is just starting to realize it... for the first time in a long time, people are actually positively commenting on design choices and user experience found in Windows 7, Windows 7 Mobile and even Zune.

We don't need to copy Apple or Dell, but we ought to be able to (and I'm genericizing for this blog post) "Help us (do what we do). Be confident that we do what we say we do and we do it with integrity because we're called to serve by Jesus Christ.  Our website makes that clear to our audience by presenting an experience that's (a), (b) and (c)." or whatever it is we ought to be able to say.  (Yes, ours is a Christian non-profit.)

Then out of that we can draw specific philosophies like...

Authenticity: "We'll make it easy for the site visitor by always doing these functions the same way."
(Translated: We will hunt down and quash inconsistencies.  We will adopt consistent proven standards used by other web developers/websites.  We will establish a design language to spec out consistency where needed.  It will be clear enough that where it's not spelled out, the designer is able to understand what should be done and arrive at the right decision on their own.)

Confidence: "We won't waste donor's time with unnecessary hoops, and in the process, they will attribute 'effortless' and 'joy' with giving [via our website]."  (Translated: We will work hard to map out the paths our audience can take.  We will make the desired (happy) path clear, we will work even harder to eliminate undesired (sad) paths that could serve to confuse, frustrate or present our audience with a dead end.)

Transparency: "We will anticipate bottlenecks and work to resolve them or make them more bearable with the following tactics like a progress bar or a spinny thing" (with specific specs and descriptions of when to use).  (Translated: When we can't fix it, or fix it right away, we will anticipate the frustration, anticipate the confusion and do everything in our power to mitigate or minimize it.)

My boss likes to say "If you don't know where you're going, you'll always get there quickly." and "If you don't know what you're aiming at, you'll hit the target every time."  It's so true.  It's almost like we need a vision statement or guiding principle that helps us inform into a design language.  (Sorry, couldn't fit paradigm and synergy into that sentence.)  

Not some 400 page document that specifies every little detail but doesn't ask developers and designers to actually think, innovate, or even - heck - be creative.

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