Made by Desmond Connolly: Keep Your Products Out of the Creative Landfill with These UX Principles
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Punk rock, puzzles, and properly poured Guinness. These are interaction and experience designer Desmond Connolly’s passions, and each has played a meaningful part in shaping his career.
Originally from Massachusetts, where he earned a degree in graphic design (Bridgewater State University), Desmond broke into the design industry on the freelance circuit, working with bands and independent record labels. Naturally, he also played in a band or two.
After a few too many Boston winters, he packed up and moved to Austin on a whim, having never set foot on Texas soil. But for Desmond, life — and design — are simply opportunities to solve great puzzles; so (with a little help from Guinness) he was undaunted as he plotted his career path in Texas, first a member of the frogdesign team, and now a designer at argodesign.
Across this career, Desmond has employed a design philosophy that guides him toward the most elegant solutions possible: stay out of the Creative Landfill. In this profile, you’ll learn how to keep your work out of the literal and figurative Creative Landfill with a few key UX principles that will help you build a Forever Product.
Tell us about your design philosophy. What’s the Creative Landfill? How do you stay out of it?
My personal mantra is to avoid contributing to Creative Landfill, both in a literal and figurative sense, whenever possible.
Let’s look at the most obvious lens first: literal Creative Waste. Designers should do what they can to avoid designing things that without much thought are deemed disposable and quickly find themselves in a hole in the ground. It’s wasteful and damaging from an environmental standpoint; it’s certainly disheartening for designers; and it’s not helpful to the brand that has commissioned such an item. This disposable culture crosses many silos, from home goods to electronics to medical supplies. Design has improved many products in these categories but must continue to look for more innovative ways to make products more lightweight (if not invisible) and useful.
A few great examples of these improvements are Coco Vinny’s pre-tapped coconuts, introduced in Whole Foods store this year; Taghleef Industries and the Mondi Group’s award-winning candy bar wrapper, designed with bio-based film made from potato starch; and Fuseproject’s “Clever Little Bag” which reduced cardboard and paper usage by 65% in Puma’s shoe packing. In the future, ballpoint pens, toothbrushes, paper towels, packaging materials, and our own currency could benefit from a design eye toward sustainability, re-usability, and dual or multi-purpose uses.
The second lens through which to view Creative Waste is figurative. Design that is not focused on solving a problem, serving a purpose, creating value (or expanding on current value), or design that fails to delight the end audience (in its use) or the designer (in its creation) goes straight to the Creative Landfill.
In my work, if I’m not fulfilling my needs to take on an interesting challenge, create value, and to enjoy what I do, it’s a good indication that I might be contributing to Creative Waste. Conversely, when I feel challenged, engaged, and excited about the work, I can be confident that the resulting product will bring joy to the end user - and chances are good that the project won’t fall into the Creative Landfill.
Is there anything designers can do about the “literal” side of the Creative Landfill?
Packaging is an obvious punching bag, and as designers we should consider ways we can improve it, from aesthetic, economic, functional, and environmental standpoints. Here are the reminders I recommend keeping at top of mind in package design:
#1 Reduce materials. Each time you take on a packaging task, ask yourself, “How can I minimize the volume of materials here while still achieving the desired impact?” It’s a no-brainer to reduce the amount of stuff needed to package the product.
#2 Use responsible materials. The question here is, “What compostable or sustainable materials and approaches can I use in designing the packaging?” Even changing the way the end user will utilize the packaging can make an impact here. For example, you could use flexible e-ink “paper” to encase the product, provide interactive instructions, and then serve a more personal purpose for the end user — for instance, it can display a piece of art the user chooses.
#3 Make packaging indispensable. Finally, it’s helpful to wonder, “What enhanced or permanent purpose can this packaging serve?” In this way, you could imagine toy or game packaging that is designed to be used in play action with the product.
Disposability is an obvious failure, and we should strive to design against it — unless that is actually the most responsible approach. Physical objects that wind up in the Landfill are not considered valuable to their owner. This may be because they weren’t designed properly, were manufactured in a substandard way, or don’t fulfill the requirements of what I like to call Forever Products.
What principles should designers follow to avoid the “figurative” side of the Landfill?
Regardless of the final shape a product takes — whether it be software, a website, or a toy on a shelf — designers should make every effort to create Forever Products.
A Forever Product ensures its longevity through its design. It will have four key qualities:
#1 Personal (or Customizable) — This aspect makes the product quite singular to the owner. Often it means the owner can tailor the product or experience to his or her personality, needs, and preferences. The ultimate example is your smartphone: No two phones have the same apps and layout because they have been customized by their owner.
#2 Valuable (or Useful) — Regardless of cost, a Forever Product is valuable or highly useful to you. Perhaps it didn’t cost much but you use it every day. My keychain is an excellent example; it organizes my key set and reduces the amount of keys I carry to my essential day-to-day set, thereby freeing up my pocket real estate.
#3 Emotional — The product evokes an emotional experience for the user. This could be delight at visually beholding the item, relief at a task being shortened by the product, or a more sentimental connection. Even better, if the product acts as a souvenir or keepsake — a nostalgic reminder you wouldn’t ever consider giving up — you can be sure it has the forever quality to it. I think of the Disney Magic Band: a technology-enabled wristband that makes your Disney experience seamless, personal, and infinitely more cool. From doubling as your room key to connecting to your online vacation photo account, the Magic Band is the keeper of vacation memories. My brother and his family took a trip to Disney a year ago and they all still have theirs because it reminds them of their time there.
#4 Timeless (or Malleable) — A strong concept can stand the test of time and/or is malleable enough to be improved as technology advances. Think of something as simple as the light bulb. The physical form of the light bulb has not changed much since its invention over a hundred years ago, but technology has advanced so that light bulbs are now on your wifi network and can be controlled with your voice. And beyond simply lighting a room, lightbulbs are now also used as a projection device, giving us a computing interface everywhere we turn.