Long live design principles!

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Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

I hate design principles. Sure, they can be memorable like an equation (“Less is more”¹) or incisive as an oracle’s words (“Form follows function”²), but sometimes they just sound like tautologies (“Good design is innovative”³) that won’t help gauge design decisions. The more obscure, the more they are misused as an alibi to hide behind, like big flags of a conquered territory we didn’t fight for.

To make things worse, they are often confused with rules and laws (like in this book), a lack of distinction that makes our job orphan of rigorous science. …


Yes, it’s a pen.

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Photo by the author

Designers and writers have something in common, and it’s not merely the creative nature of their work. What’s similar is the meticulous job they both embrace in defining relations and proportions between the atomic units of their systems, also known as languages.

A writer’s vocabulary is made up of words; a designer’s vocabulary is made up of visual symbols. The composition of words produces sentences where designers combine elements in layouts that we call interfaces. …


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Photo by Camille / Kmile on Unsplash

Whether you are a gen-Z, millennial or a recently separated 40-something, chances are you have heard of or used Tinder enough to understand how brutal dating can be.

How many times have you heard comments like “I wish dating would be more natural, more real.” The problem of dating apps, however, is not that they are digital, rather it is that they do not respect the interactions that occur during a casual encounter.

If anything, what apps do really well — because they are digital, — provide quick access to large audiences and wider demographics. Without this digital functionality, we would never have a direct link to so many viable individuals. This unbeatable advantage over real life is statistically proven to increase the chances of matching with somebody you like. …


Pick your worst user to design more efficient interfaces.

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Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

I love maps. The seemingly random lines and false colors render them aesthetically iconic, so much so that designers sometimes abuse of their visual power and use them even if they are the wrong interface for the job, especially in navigational applications.

In fact, my problem is that a map, despite being a simplified representation of reality (scaled down and flat), carries a significant amount of information that is not always needed to get a person from point A to point B. …


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The model underlined in this brief essay is not meant to scare the reader with some abstract theories about product development but on the contrary, it’s conceived as a pragmatic framework that can help formulate logical and less aleatory definitions of two popular design concepts: innovation and simplicity.

A definition of product

Let’s start with a mandatory definition first. A product is a physical, virtual or digital tool that helps in satisfying final users wants or needs. …


We are surrounded by objects that have history, that span centuries — and sometimes we completely ignore it.

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What is the first image you visualize in your head when you think about a calendar? Probably a table with numbers arranged in 7 columns and 5 rows (or 6 row depending on day 1) to display the full month ahead. We use it every day, whether on your phone or on your wall. Same design no matter the medium, the same format has moved from posters to digital apps without any alteration.

We are surrounded by objects that have history, sometimes that span centuries, and we completely ignore it. Anytime I encounter design patterns that are so well embedded in our lives I wonder what were the design decisions — who took them — that made that object to be what it is today. …


There’s no logical reason why telephones and calculators use different numeric keypads. So why do we still follow the same convention?

Picture the keypad of a telephone and calculator side by side. Can you see the subtle difference between the two without resorting to your smartphone? Don’t worry if you can’t recall the design. Most of us are so used to accepting the common interfaces that we tend to overlook the calculator’s inverted key sequence. A calculator has the 7–8–9 buttons at the top whereas a phone uses the 1–2–3 format.

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Telephone (left) and calculator (right) keypads

Subtle, but puzzling since they serve the same functional goal — input numbers. There’s no logical reason for the inversion if a user operates the interface in the same way. Common sense suggests the reason should be technological constraints. Maybe it’s due to a patent battle between the inventors. …


Throughout my career at design agencies, I’ve been involved in one too many conversations about the design process. These conversations always end with the consensus to kill the waterfall process because it’s non-iterative, lengthy, it doesn’t respect the designers mindset, yadda yadda.

As the matter of fact, all the new diagrams I’ve seen of proposed new methodologies, pushing the concept of design iterations, I feel are no less than waterfalls in disguise of a whirlpool.

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Iteration pocket in the main design process.


How bottom-up product design liberates designers and delights users.

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We are on the cusp of a major shift in how product designers approach their jobs. The legacy method is to spend a lot of upfront time concocting a formal strategy and identifying “user needs” before getting to work building something, a top-down process that is time-consuming and costly. An alternative — and increasingly accessible — method is to focus on synthesizing individual elements and features of a product from the bottom-up, ultimately discovering new use cases that could drive a viable business strategy. If the traditional approach is “macro UX,” the new one is “micro UX.”

How bottom-up product design liberates designers and delights users.

The best example of bottom-up design—micro UX—is building with Legos. The designer uses predefined units and works with them as starting points to create something new. In designing digital products, we similarly leverage specific technologies, gestures and features of different devices to build something without worrying about the overall strategy. With each iteration, a cohesive product takes form, and using real-time usability testing, designers continue to tweak that new product until users love it. This open-ended process might spook some clients or traditional practitioners, but it’s what’s beginning to separate truly great product design from merely adequate design. …

About

Francesco Bertelli

Design Director @ Work & Co, Brooklyn

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