Philosopher Don Ihde identifies a phenomenon he calls “The Designer Fallacy.” It takes its cue from an idea in literary theory called “Intentional Fallacy,” which refers to the mistake of thinking that the meaning of a text is restricted to what the author intended; it’s presumed that meanings emerge from texts in various ways. Unintended “meanings” often emerge in design as well. End users of designed objects use them in ways that the designers never intended. The results of this new use can be good or not so good, but I just heard of a good unintended use of a design: there was a bit today in the NYTs on people using parked bikes from NYCs new bike-sharing program in an interesting way:
In a fit of urban guile more likely to affect gym memberships than program memberships, some New Yorkers seem to have identified the newest, cheapest way to tone their lower bodies: hop aboard the seat [of a NYC bike-share bike] and pedal in place — with the bikes still locked — as if the stations were rows of exercise equipment.
I’ve never understood why people make jokes about basket weaving. Think about it: What skill could be more useful than making an object that carries things from one place to another, using materials that you have lying around? I happen to have a lot of tyvek and a little bit of leather, so I’ve been designing tyvek baskets with leather handles (at half scale for now). I think these vessels are sweet and I like imagining filling them up with fruit in summer.
I love all kinds of baskets and if I had the right studio space (which would have to include a sink), I’d definitely take up weaving.
Iconic architect, furniture designer, and co-founder of Knoll Associates, Florence Knoll, passed away last week at the age of 101. She developed her classic modernist style for corporate interiors in the mid 20th century and it still rings true today.
Knoll studied architecture at the renowned Cranbrook school with masters like Mies van de Rohe and Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero. She went on to co-found Knoll Associates and was the driving design force at the firm. She designed spaces for corporate giants like IBM, GM, Heinz, and CBS, and she commissioned innovative pieces from Bertoia’s wire chair to Saarinen’s fiberglass tulip series (which she had to convince a New Jersey boat maker to fabricate) to van de Roe’s Barcelona chair. The work is timeless.
There’s a lot of advice for inventors on how to do customer research. Yet, so many inventors do it poorly. They send surveys too early. They talk to the wrong people. They ask the wrong questions. And in turn, they gather misleading data.
It’s better to do no customer research than to do bad customer research. Bad research will point you in the wrong direction. It will cause you to focus on the wrong things.
Better to trust your gut, build a quick, cheap, and flexible prototype, then test that.
TAKE IT FURTHER – learn from customer research masters
Affordances is a term made popular by Human-Computer Interaction theorist Donald Norman. The term refers to the actions that an object or system enable the user to take. A knife enables the user to cut. Thus, one affordance of a knife is “cuttability.”
I like to make a distinction between the actions that certain tools and objects enable vs the actions that tools and objects want to enable. Sure, a wrench can be used to hammer a nail, but it’s not what it was designed for. Hammering is not what a wrench wants to do. Not that you shouldn’t use a wrench to hammer a nail if that’s what you need to do and a wrench is all that you’ve got. Just remember that it’s important to understand that hammering is not what a wrench is designed for.
I have a controversial stance on the affordances of some digital fabrication tools. For example, in many cases, people use 3D printers for low batch production of identical parts. Yes, low batch production of identical parts is an affordance of a 3D printer – a 3D printer can do this. But it’s not what the tool wants to do. It’s quicker and easier on the machine (which is often a shared machine) to use a 3D printer to make a mold and do your low batch production using a mold rather than running the printer for 500 hours (and dealing with all of the hiccups) to make your ten identical parts.
I also believe that laser cutters afford cutting. Yes, they do etching really well and many a laser cutter owner uses their machine to run an etching business (think trophies). But etching, compared to cutting, is really slow. And if you are using a laser in a shared space, it’s advantageous to lean into what the tool really wants to do: lighting quick cutting. Don’t use a wrench to hammer a nail if you don’t have to.
At home, at work, and school we benefit from sharing spaces, tools, and resources. However, sharing resources is challenging because the responsibility for them is distributed. Shared spaces get messy. Shared tools get broken. And no one person is on the line to clean or fix them.
So when you use a shared space, leave the space better than you found it. Do something extra. Change that light bulb that’s been out for too long. Make and hang that sign that needs to be in place. Sweep those stairs that need sweeping. And when you contribute, don’t be a silent contributor. Let the group know what you’ve contributed. Your generosity will inspire others to make their own contributions.
I don’t normally promote products here, but this is one that I truly believe in. The “Ship It Journal” by Seth Godin. The prompts in the journal are the perfect balance between focused and open which creates an ideal space for you to explore, evaluate, plan, and ship a project.
90% of new products fail. They fail because the team that designed the product paid more attention to their product and features and their own motivations than they did to their customers’ problems and worldview.
Take for instance that little voice-activated robot in my kitchen (Amazon Alexa). It’s crystal clear to me that the Alexa product team is much more focused on making shopping on Amazon easy for me than they are with my actual needs in the kitchen. It’s early days so I’m somewhat forgiving, but in the moment when I really need a reminder of how to make miso dressing, I get pissed off. Each time I have to put down my knife, wash and dry my hands, and walk over to my phone or laptop to get a recipe using my wet fingers, I just cringe. Alexa, why do you hate me?
I’m tired of orienting my computing toward a screen. I want to search the internet for recipes while I’m cooking and my voice-activated robot doesn’t accommodate that well. I want to write while I am taking a walk or in the shower–the best ideas come at those times. I want to watch a movie while stretching or lying flat on my back. I want to help my partner figure out how to do something online without having to look over his shoulder at his screen which is way too small for me to see clearly anyway. I’m ready.
UX is commonly understood as the web or app piece of your product or service. Also thought of as interface design. Most often it’s handled by the token designer on a team and understood in terms of cool visuals and animations. But this understanding of UX is too small.
Then there is UX, the entire user experience that your customers have with your product. That experience may start with an ad, a sales call, a word of mouth recommendation. Then, if you are lucky, that’s followed by customer buy-in and a registration or setup process. After that is the experience your customer has with your product over time. Does your product get to know your customer and adapt its behavior to better meet their needs? Does it give your customer the kind of feedback that they need? Does it inspire your customer to level up if leveling up is part of your business model?
These questions help us understand UX at a high level. It’s rare that the lone junior designer on your team will even know to ask these questions. But if you examine these questions with a small team on a regular basis, then your designer is well positioned to give you a range of potential solutions.