When Design can be Inconsequential

As a user, I have cursed at good design. And I blame it on my mindset.

After spending a few months into my Interaction Design program, I immediately learned the value of design research. I think about it before I start working on any idea that I have. I was taught in the last few months to ask ‘how might we’ questions like ‘How might we use the immersive power of virtual reality to spread awareness about climate change?’ One of my instructors, Jason Severs, has a very compelling keynote slide that is ingrained into my mind. It reads:

The world you take for granted is being aggressively designed, all for you.

This quote really helped me become more conscious and observant. I started noticing the design decisions made in different spaces that impact my user experience. I would take note of how signs direct me to move in a space, how a website or application would guide me to navigate it, etc.

Despite all this, it is important to acknowledge that the designer cannot control the experience to a large extent. A few weeks back, I was flustered because my wallet got stolen. I spent all day making calls to cancel my cards and sending emails for replacements. Because of this, when I went into a small café for a quick lunch, I did not realize I had missed the menu at the back of the line (and disrupted a lot of customers’ experiences while trying to go back and forth in line to order some food). The designers did a fine job at adding signages and expediting the process. On any normal day, I would have appreciated this experience and the simple, yet important decision that was made. That day, I cursed at their “stupidity” of placing menus where they did.

My takeaway? It is important for me to acknowledge and accept that as a designer who thinks about user experience, I cannot always guide everyone’s journey exactly how I want to. Design is inconsequential when the user is dazed.

Design is inconsequential when the user is dazed.

So here is another ‘how might we’ question as a final thought:

“how might we develop systems that can understand that their user is dazed and react to solve for it in real time?”

For example, when a computer hangs, the user repeatedly clicks the ‘x’ to close the window, not realizing that these actions are making the situation much worse. So could machines sense this frustration? Could they direct processing speed to the exact software(s) that the frustrated user is focusing on? It would make last minute print jobs perfect, wouldn’t it?