Why Design isn’t just about how it looks — it is also about how it works

Okay, so I wasn’t the first person who came up with this idea — it was something similar that was quite famously said by Steve Jobs.

I don’t pretend to know much about the man. I mean I know who he is, and I do know lots about him, but I am no mega-fan, but this quote is something that has really stuck with me through my career in design.

“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.” Steve Jobs. Wired Magazine 1994

And this is the thing, this is why I love design — because design isn’t really a thing that is about MY ideas, about how arty farty I am, or how I can make things look pretty, it is not a kind of veneer that we paint on afterwards… it is about how we make things work for the people who are going to use the product of our designs, and it is right in the core of every product ever made.

And the core is the most important bit, right? The bit that keeps the whole darn thing together, the glue, and the heart — which is why a good design is something that can really make or break a product.

We need to make sure that our products in this world are things that people love to use, that want to return back to, and enjoy.

This is especially worth noting in a world where the customer has such a loud voice, where the user can feed back their views online within seconds, where the internet is just waiting to create the next meme about something that failed — so we had better make sure that our products meet their expectations, and not only meet them, delight them! They can then tell their friends how great our product is, instead of using their voices to say how frustrated or let down they were.

So lets think of another big player — What makes Airbnb so amazing? Is it the concept of renting out an apartment so amazing? Not really. Did that work for the Airbnb guys? Nope. In fact they struggled to launch initially, until they went back to the drawing board and looked at things differently, to make sure that the user got what it was they wanted — to visualise and experience the properties in an easy to digest and easy to search/book way. They stopped using lousy quality photos and made things really visually appealing, and voila!

Joe Gebbia - Airbnb Co Founder

From then on, Airbnb have continued to grow, to look at different ways to develop and to keep on evolving. I love the concept that Joe Gebbia (co-founder of Airbnb) has that a designer needs to “become the patient” to build better products, how you need to go out to the real world and understand their problems, and only then can you come up with a solution.

“If we were working on a medical device, we would go out into the world. We would go talk with all of the stakeholders, all of the users of that product, doctors, nurses, patients and then we would have that epiphany moment where we would lay down in the bed in the hospital. We’d have the device applied to us, and we would sit there and feel exactly what it felt like to be the patient, and it was in that moment where you start to go aha, that’s really uncomfortable. There’s probably a better way to do this.” Joe Gebbia, Airbnb (Source: First Round Review)

This is something that Apple do well (contrary to how this article sounds, I am not actually a huge apple fan, I am pretty much an Android person, but that is another story), it designed its products for the people who were going to use it. Apple counts design as a foundation principle, and when Steve Jobs started with his vision, he said that he would not settle for “good” designs, in fact, it had to be “great”.

I look at the way they took this ethos and pushed it out through each of their products.

They roll out beautiful looking products time and time again, by knowing just what the user wants and keeping things not just easy to use (but not just easy — actually more than that — intuitive to use, so they don’t have to think) by keeping things clean, and simple, yet all the while introducing new and innovative technologies — that is pretty much everything that the user wants in a product.

In my mind, a good design is simple, it covers all the bases of what the product needs to achieve, and that is to be something that a user WANTS. Anything less is pretty useless.


Originally published at Rachel Wallis.

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