Designs On Point

…and some that could use some work

“Everything is Design. Everything!” Well, Paul Rand, you’re not wrong. Everything we interact with is design in some form or another. From webpages to envelopes, video games to playing cards, at some point, a massive series of conscious choices were made as far as why something looks, interacts, behaves, feels the way it does. It is so easy to simply exist among these things and accept them for the way they are, but once you begin to delve into the complexity behind each and every decision, you can get lost in the layers. I thought about a few things I’ve come across in my life that I think are impeccably designed, and then also considered a few that I definitely think need some work.

I’m a glass half-full kind of person, so let’s start with the good:

[+]Football Field

The 30… The 20… The 10…

In the spirit of the Olympics and NFL preseason kickoff, I’ve had sports on the brain lately. Having grown up playing and watching almost every sport you could imagine, I have a pretty solid knowledge foundation here and I believe that American football fields are the most perfectly designed out of all of the sporting grounds out there. There are no arbitrary lines that require prior knowledge of the game, but rather clearly marked and delineated distances with giant numbers that correspond to the ball’s position on the field — pretty easy for even a first time football spectator to pick up on. The team logo in the center of the field, coupled with the fact that the numbers count down from 50 on either side clearly demonstrates that each team’s goal is to get to their end zone while also keeping their opponent from reaching their own end zone. The yard markers make it simple for the offensive players to know where they are on the field and allow them to see exactly how far they need to advance the ball to convert downs, while simultaneously giving the defense a visible line to hold the offense back from.

[+]Instagram

If you were to take a look at app usage stats on my iPhone, Instagram would definitely be higher than every other app combined. Interestingly, the majority of the accounts I follow on Instagram post the same content to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. So why do I default to Instagram over other social media accounts? It all stems from the design. First of all, Instagram is extremely straightforward. The icons at the bottom are nearly explicit across most languages and cultures in 2016. Obviously I am generalizing, but the house icon representing “home” translates across the board. One can pretty easily infer the next four for “search”, “camera”, “likes”, and “my account”. Instagram makes it obvious which text will link to a new page and which will not by either making the text bold or changing its color to blue. The app only gives you three options on any given photo or video posted — like it, comment on it, or share it with someone else. To me, that’s just enough.

Where Facebook does too much (more on that in a minute…), Instagram is the cooler, younger sibling who knows that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Instead of being bombarded with a Facebook album of 199 honeymoon pictures of some sorority sister whose maiden name you can’t remember, you can simply scroll through the Instagram homepage, come across what she thinks is the pièce de résistance of that massive Facebook album, double-tap that crème de la crème of the dozens of other hubby-gazing photos and move on with your life (or more accurately, onto cat videos and memes about being fat, lazy, and poor that apply to your life just a little too perfectly) and leave Mrs. Whatshername strolling off into the sunset where she belongs.

[+]Riedel Stemless Wine Glass

Perhaps the most ubiquitous wine glasses in both the restaurant industry and people’s homes are Riedel wine glasses. The founder of Riedel was the first person to consider the shape of the glass as a factor in the enjoyment of various types of wine and therefore essentially invented the functional wine glass. Honestly though, these stemless glasses are my go-to for any kind of wine from cabernet sauvignon to moscato. As someone who has snapped the stem of, shattered, or otherwise disfigured almost every wine glass I have ever purchased, the design of the Riedel stemless wine glass is perfect to me. First of all, the lack of a stem is groundbreaking. They can fit in the top rack of the dishwasher — no more hand-washing my thin-stemmed delicates. With a complete lack of a stem and a fairly wide base, they have a lower center of gravity, which makes them harder to knock over. They are also completely unisex with an extremely minimalistic design and can therefore accompany any existing dining sets, which allows them to appeal to virtually any wine drinker.

As for the bad…:

[-]SoulCycle App

I am half-embarrassed, half-proud to admit that I am a SoulCycle addict. Embarrassed because I’m fairly certain it plays into any stereotype someone off the street might have of me, not to mention at $30+ a pop, it gives everyone a good insight into why I can hardly afford to feed myself regularly. Proud because in my first class ever I fell off of my [stationary] bike trying to pick up the water bottle I knocked out of its holster and caused a scene and then genuinely thought I was going to have a coronary about 6 minutes in, whereas now I don’t feel as though I’m on the brink of death until much closer to the end. Progress.

Anyway, given my addiction, and given the fact that if you don’t book your favorite bike for your favorite class with your favorite instructor at 12:00:01 on the dot every Monday, fuhgetaboutit, I spend a fair amount of time using the SoulCycle app. Which is unfortunate because the functionality of the app is pretty terrible. There is no option to save your login information for the future, nor is there any autofill, so you have to manually type in your email address and password every. single. time. you open the app. Similarly, you cannot set a favorite class, instructor, or even studio, so you have to run through a list of options and make specific selections every time you want to book a bike, which is time consuming. I just tested it out and had to go through seven screens before I got to the booking page. Remember what I said about having to book your class as soon as noon hits or you’ll find yourself relegated to a back corner of despair? The SoulCycle app’s convoluted road to booking a class is definitely not conducive to a snappy selection. Furthermore, the menu options at the bottom of the home page are “my soul”, “plan my ride”, and “browse”. First of all… “my soul” is not something I should be able to find in an app, and as it turns out, “my soul” is just a corny euphemism for “homepage”. The “plan my ride” and “browse” options each take you to essentially the exact same menu from which you can eventually book a bike, just with slightly different aesthetics and formatting, i.e. you making a selection prompting a “next” button vs. taking you directly to the next page.

If I were to re-designing the SoulCycle app, I would add a feature that allows a user to opt to save his or her login information and preferred studio location for a more expedient experience. I would get rid of the redundant menu options and instead have a home icon (either a human silhouette or a house), a plan my ride icon (a bike or the SoulCycle signature wheel logo), and a favorites icon (a heart) where the user can quickly access their select favorite classes for easy booking. The SoulCycle schedule is largely unchanging from week to week and many of their clientele are students or professionals who operate on a similarly unchanging school or work schedule and therefore don’t need every conceivable class option presented every time they login. Being able to tap “favorites” and access the booking page for, say, the Tuesday 6am class at the Georgetown SoulCycle studio without having to navigate through seven different menus and screens would make for a much more enjoyable experience.

Microwave Button Panel

The microwave button panel absolutely baffles me. I’ll admit, I use the popcorn button. But I have to remember to run into the kitchen and open the microwave 30 seconds before the timer goes off otherwise my house will reek of burnt popcorn for days. The panel gives you buttons to push for the ambiguous groups of “meat”, “poultry”, and “fish”. I’m no expert, but I’m fairly certain a 24oz. porterhouse and an 8oz. filet mignon do not take the same amount time to thaw. Now, what is with the arbitrary “Quick Touch” buttons? What ‘Mad Men’-Era ad guy picked “frozen entree” and “potato” as two of the top six most fundamental microwaveable foodstuffs of the 1960s and more importantly, why has no one sought to change that since then?

I would completely redesign the microwave button panel by simplifying it. People use a microwave for quickness and convenience, and in large part simply to heat up food. I would remove the food options in the quick touch section and would have the panel consist only of the numbers 0–9 to input the cook time, a start button and a stop button, +/- buttons to increase or decrease the cook time in increments of 30 seconds, and a timer. I know that many people rely on the clock on the microwave as a means of telling time in the kitchen, so I would suggest making a larger clock screen in lieu of the quick touch panel to allow for larger numbers for the time and a smaller clock underneath it that functions as a timer when activated.

Facebook

Doing. Too. Much. I have had a Facebook account since 2005 so I have seen the majority of the iterations that were made widely public. There are sometimes where I appreciate everything Facebook offers me, but most of the time it is so beyond overwhelming that as soon as I open the webpage, my brain gets into sensory overload and I just have to x-out and pop Instagram open. With Facebook, I just know too much… about nearly everyone I’ve been acquainted with since I was 13… Mike Maloney there is the owner of a bar near Villanova where I went to school. I met him once five years ago and he friended me. Now I know his political views, his vacation plans, which articles he’s interested in, his kids names, and what his wife made for dinner last Tuesday. I can stalk play mindless games (and subsequently send my score updates out to all 2,545 of my closest friends), scope out (irrelevant) news, peruse pictures from 2007 of my best friend’s ex-boyfriend’s new fiancé, put up an edited, filtered picture from my family vacation for everyone to see, and check out exactly how many minutes ago any of my 2,545 BFFs happened to be on Facebook — just in case anyone was pretending they’re sorry, they didn’t have their phone! Oh, and if the hour I spent deliberating whether or not I wanted that bikini bottom or those jean shorts wasn’t enough, never fear — Mark Zuckerberg will happily toss some targeted ads my way. Because of this, anytime I need to Google something I wouldn’t type out in front of someone else, I open an incognito window so I don’t find myself inundated with ads for things like weight loss pills and adult diapers.

I find myself only using the icons at the very top in the blue header to search or navigate to the homepage, my profile, my messages, or my settings. I honestly don’t even know how to begin to understand the list / menu along the left-hand side of the page. At the bottom of some of those headers I have ‘20+’ meaning there are over 20 more options for me to scroll through, which is enough to make me skip over the section all together. If I were to redesign it, I would definitely consolidate that section, not to mention get rid of 90% of the features listed there. As I scroll through my news feed, I find myself coming across articles and posts that are hours or even days old, which tells me that their algorithm that determines what any given user will see based on their activity needs serious work to make sure that the content is not only relevant, but also up to date.

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