Why We Love Design

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Perhaps humans love design because we can instinctively recognize the ingenuity that goes into solving a problem. In an instant, great design connects us with the problem, the solution and the people on either end of it. That feels good.

Good design reflects human ingenuity, connecting us to that spark in the brain that pushes us all towards the infinite. The potential we all have for greatness.

We can marvel at a thing we don’t wholly understand, say the shape of aircraft’s wing, we can appreciate its beauty on an aesthetic level. Compare an aircraft’s wing to the petal of a flower or the shape of a mollusk shell. There is a reason for their beauty.

Good design comes from solving problems that humanity faces. As a species we are in a constant fight for survival. Inventions that help us survive and thrive as we hurtle through space are welcomed. Our designs are comforting. They reflect our tenuous place in the universe. They show us we belong.

We can recognize when design is real. We can also recognize when it’s not. Often a form has been copied and applied to a thing it doesn’t serve. It may fool us at first, but we’ll soon discover it’s not what it appears to be.

Poor design often reels us in only to disappoint and clutter our lives. Superfluous design is distracting. A designer may tend towards decoration when there is no clear problem to solve. The output of restless hands in search of a worthy goal.

Reaching towards worthy goals and solving real-word problems; this is where design shines. 

The Nature of Affordance

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If you’ve been involved in user experience or usability for a minute you’re probably familiar with the term “affordance”. An affordance can a button on a webpage, a handle on a coffee mug, or a light switch. When designing a user interface we might isolate a view and consider what we’re “affording” the user. What controls are we providing the user so they can complete the task at hand?

Calling a button an “affordance” might be pretentious, but it can be helpful if you suspect that a button might not be the best control. We might say, “What other affordance could we use to accomplish this task”.

We have a rule in our office. If you say “affordance” more than 5 times in a given day you have to buy everyone lunch.

While affordances are generally considered a good thing, our computers and devices seem to be getting packed with more and more of them. Affordances often compete for attention, cause confusion and overwhelm.

Controls need to be properly weighted, mixed, staged. It’s like cooking. You find the right balance of ingredients to achieve the desired flavor. The desired flavor in many cases is what your family likes to eat.

This has lead us to the ‘Nature of Affordance’. Meaning: If you put it out there, people will think they should use it.

Thinking of affordance in this way helps us curate what we put in front of our users (or customers), rather than overwhelm them with a litany of choices.