4 Design Principles My Landlord Doesn’t Understand, Apparently

Learn from their mistakes to actually get the results you intend from your communcations.

If you’ve ever searched for an apartment in New York City, you know that it’s a very unique form of hellish torture.

Between the intense competition, slimy rental agents, and exorbitant broker fees, I honestly feel extremely lucky to have found a place I enjoy.

Just one thing.

My landlord is totally clueless when it comes to communicating with my fellow tenants and me.

Luckily, my management company’s design ineptitude has generated several teachable moments for me to share with you — my closest internet friends.

Principle 1. Cognitive Load

If you want users to successfully interact with a process you’re building, your job as a designer is to reduce cognitive load to make the process as frictionless as possible.

Case in point: my apartment’s trash disposal room.

There are SEVEN SIGNS in this tiny room; each with multiple lines of complicated instructions.

What they think they’re doing

What they’re actually doing

What they should do instead

Principle 2. Emphasis

Emphasis is often a great strategy to do this — it can help users differentiate important text from supporting text.

However, without discipline, emphasis can actually get in the way of guiding the user to the most important information.

If, for example, you wanted to tackle the monumental task of actually reading the first three signs from the trash room, this is what you would find.

What they think they’re doing

What they’re actually doing

What they should do instead

Principle 3. Social Proof

In advertising, companies often use testimonials from other customers as a form of social proof.

If other people have used this product and achieved their desired results, I (as a prospective customer) probably will too.

In my apartment, however, social proof has an unexpected consequence that actually undermines the message they’re trying to get across.

What they think they’re saying

What they’re actually saying

What they should say instead

Secondly, if anyone has been punished for the smoking, talk about the fact that “unfortunately, we had to do XYZ with another tenant.”

Thirdly, appeal to the impact smoking has on other tenants to reinforce the social impact of continuing to smoke in the apartment.

Principle 4. User Interface Conventions

Whenever users have established an expectation of how to perform a certain action (i.e., I can return to the home page by clicking the company logo on the top left of a webpage), don’t diverge from that expectation without good reason.

In some cases, this effect is so strong that the context of user interface conventions actually overshadows the content of the message.

I direct your attention to my apartment’s laundry room.

Since I’ve lived in this building, people have prioritized the machines on the left of this photo.

They’re the closest to the door, closest to the trash (for dryer lint), and the first machines people see when they enter the laundry room.

However, I came to the laundry room recently to find the machines on the left conspicuously empty, in favor of the machines on the right.

Question: What would drive people to change their behavior from using the most-convenient machine to using a slightly-less-convenient machine?

The Answer: We, the users of the laundry room, have been conditioned to understand the user interface convention of “sign on machine = out of order.”

What they think they’re saying

What they’re actually saying

What they should do instead

Second, put the sign on the door, or near the laundry carts, but not on the machines.

Any time you’re in a situation where you’re communicating a message, pay attention to these principles to help you empathize with the user’s experience.

Also, the people who run my apartment are actually very nice.

Please don’t evict me.

Data Scientist. Views are my own. Pronouns: He / Him.