Industrial Designer Dieter Rams is known for saying that “good design is as little design as possible.”
In a new documentary by Gary Hustwit, Rams, Dieter Rams addresses our world that throws away its phones every one or two years for the new release and the world that can’t look away from a screen. He has tweaked his message a bit:
“Less would be better everywhere.”
I agree with Rams. Thoughtless design and thoughtless consumption have a high price. With thoughtless design and consumption, our things quickly become our master. While this philosophy applies very much to the physical world, it also applies perfectly to the digital world. With the role of digital experiences and technology advancing faster than ever, today’s designers need to be hypervigilant when it comes to understanding the role of design and technology in the human experience. Augmented reality, virtual reality, chatbots and voice assistants are all exciting, but how do we create better experiences using these new technologies instead of piling on with more experiences thoughtlessly?
A Customer-Centric Approach
The antidote to thoughtless design is simple: talk to your customers and co-create with them. That means the creative process cannot be a series of boxes to check. Good design requires an understanding of the people it’s being created for. To truly learn about their behaviors and their attitudes, you can’t just ingest stats or stagnant information. You need to spend time with your customers, talking and observing them in their natural habit. As tempting as it is to skip steps or try to merge multiple steps into one to save time, the product undeniably suffers and we’re left with a product that doesn’t really do what we need it to do. A product that frustrates us. A product that forces us to adapt to it, which puts the product at risk of being rejected by its users. Or a product that needlessly complicates our customers’ lives with experiences that might titillate for a moment but in the long run clutter their lives with vapid and useless experiences. You may still be thinking:
“It’s a waste of time and money. I already know my users. Design research isn’t needed.”
The truth: your customer is changing, rapidly. Chances are you know what your customer used to need and want, not what they want now.
Or maybe you think:
“We talk to our customers. Once we’ve made it, we always get it in front of a few people to see how they like it before we ship it.”
The truth: you have great intentions, but at this point it’s too late in the process. It’s now too risky for your role to really open yourself up to discover no one wants or knows how to use your product. So you validate what you’ve done is correct and maybe look for small ways to enhance it.
I get it. It’s tough. We live in a time that values speed more than anything else. But good products and services emerge from awareness of a pain point. The world doesn’t need more things, it needs less. Creating something to create is irresponsible. We need to see our part in what we’re adding or removing in the world and be mindful of our contribution to create less things that are better because they were designed thoughtfully and with understanding.
Voice has Less Room for Error
Voice is a new and old space. Designing conversational experiences requires more thought. Screens are foreign and users (at times) will take the blame when things aren’t intuitive. But conversation is a natural interface. It also has a unique reaction from users — they try to break it. What I mean by that is, they try to figure out if they are talking to a machine or person when engaging with chatbots or voice experiences over the phone. And they look for the limits of the conversation.
After all, people want to be able to communicate. If it’s difficult to communicate we get frustrated and end the conversation. You may have a good understanding of what the problem is, but with voice, we need to learn and design for how people are communicating. Screenless interfaces make it difficult to guide people, and guided experiences feel limiting and at times repressive. To design a skill well in the world of voice, we need to be smart and well-informed. We need to explore the tones of the conversation to feel authentic. Voice assistants have the propensity to go off rambling, overloading you with too much information or the wrong information. That’s poor design. As the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal famously wrote:
“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
Shorter, or as Rams put it, less is better. Designers need to build checks into the conversation. Asking for validation that she is on the right track. Allowing the user to decide when and where they want more information.
With a customer-centric approach, we can avoid poorly designed voice experiences and create experiences that are intelligently designed, adding value to our lives.