Buttons are Bullshit

Seriously. This is not one of those attention-grabbing headlines. I am sincerely interested in forever changing your perspective on how you interact with the objects around you. I want to push your proverbial foot in the door to a future filled with magical interactive experiences. And I vigorously believe that many buttons are bullshit.

Part of this story will be an exercise in letting go of some deep-rooted and preconceived thoughts on why some things are the way they are. A skill, I feel, contributes to original creativity; though that’s a story for another time.

Allow me to show you the why, what, how and what’s next in my personal crusade against the evil that are Bullshit Buttons.


Why are Buttons Bullshit?

Let’s get a first look at the relationship between you and the objects you interact with.

1. A button is not part of my natural vocabulary

Objects force us to accommodate because they do not speak our natural languages. They compel us to use unnecessary communicative actions: Bullshit Buttons.

2. We express ourselves through natural intent

Subtle behavior takes place when attempting to accomplish a goal, even before having to use a Bullshit Button. This natural intent can be identified and used to create something better.

3. Better product experiences by following intent

By having the object react to our intent we create a more seamless product experience, more natural in use. A future where we are not constantly conforming to the world around us.


What are Bullshit Buttons?

Let’s begin with a set of examples, starting with actual knobs and quickly expanding into a more progressive panorama of Bullshit Buttons.

1. Starting your laptop

A laptop’s Bullshit Button is its power button. The only way for the laptop to understand that you want to switch it ON is when you conform to its language and press that button.

However, before being forced to use that unnecessary button you’re exhibiting behavior that expresses your natural intent. In this case you open your laptop when you want to use it.

Now this is where the beauty comes in: when you open its lid, the laptop can understand your intent and switch ON for you. No need to use a Bullshit Button. Currently implemented in Apple’s Macbook Pro laptops.

2. Getting into your car

So, you want to get into your car. Obviously the Bullshit Button here is the car key. A simple or fancy intelligent key, even an app on your smartphone; it all amounts to the same redundant object and required action.

Now it’s logical to think that keeping the key in your pocket and just opening the car door is a perfect example of natural intent. After all, this is an experience offered by many cars. But surely we can do better.

Because you see, even the car door handle is a Bullshit Button. The car still does not grasp your goal and demands the use of your hand to open and close the car door. Don’t you think we can improve this experience?

The real natural intent is you, the driver, walking up to the driver-side door. Again, behavior that has to take place when wanting to accomplish your goal of getting into the car.

The better experience is formed when we detect when you’re consciously approaching the car with the intent to get in and open the car door for you. Exactly what the Tesla Model X does.

3. Taking something from a box

This little box makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Why would you need to open its lid? It can perfectly understand your intent and open automatically when you reach for it. Just imagine if more things were like this cute little box.

4. Navigating a website

At Handmade we are avoiding Bullshit Buttons by default. In this video we explored how to improve a website experience, shown by two concepts.

Besides gently revealing other media to not distract you from your reading, the first section primarily features how we react to your natural intent of showing interest in certain content. When you stop at an image we add focus to it and its caption, while fading out the rest seamlessly.

The second section demonstrates Superscroll, a reaction to when you’re scanning the page by quickly scrolling. We abstract unreadable text, amplify headers, enhance the left scrollbar with header markers and overemphasize any videos. Simply providing the right information for the right moment.


How can I design around Bullshit Buttons?

Okay, let’s recap and take a look at how to avoid Bullshit Buttons and design an intent-based reaction in order to create a better product experience.

1. The process

Start by understanding the actual goal and desired result. Next, pinpoint the Bullshit Button. And remember: they are more than just regular physical switches and often not easily seen as superfluous.

Now identify the natural intent preceding the redundant activity. What you’re looking at, reaching for, saying out loud, thinking of; all are expressions of natural intent.

Finally, design the intent-driven reaction replacing the Bullshit Button, creating a better and more magical experience.

And while you’re at it, you might also want to figure out the implementation requirements and redundancies for your future product. Perhaps figure out the value to a client’s business (e.g. more natural and cost-effective user interface, joyful experience or signature interaction empowering the brand).

2. A test for the reader

Exercise time! Let’s see if you can figure out the missing steps in this overview. You’re going to be looking for examples of natural intent and a companion reaction. When you’re done you can see how your reflections relate to my attempt. Are we close?


What’s next for Bullshit Buttons?

As you have seen, there are plenty of Bullshit Buttons out there. And some will be more difficult to spot than others. The trick is to stay vigilant and constantly challenge surrounding interactive objects. To not fall for the trap of the unnecessary action. For example, you might want to start questioning the growing trend of voice interfaces. Because isn’t speaking to an object just another Bullshit Button? Just saying.

Ask yourself, do you really need that Bullshit Button?

I hope this story has changed your perspective on the interactive objects around you. That it stimulates your critical nature. For it to spark your creative contribution to new and more magical experiences. I for one, won’t stop my crusade. Will you join me?

If you liked this story and want to continue a discussion, please get in touch through Twitter. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Enjoy your day!

Jan van der Asdonk is a Principal Product Designer and Jack of All Trades, Master of Some at Handmade. He specializes in creative perspectives and designing holistic digital / physical product experiences. Follow him on Twitter.


Handmade is a Product Invention Lab based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and operates across the globe. Handmade helps forward looking technology companies design and prototype their next big things.

If you are interested in these thoughts and the impact on your potential business, get in touch. We at Handmade love to remove Bullshit Buttons for you.

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