Taking Notez – Island Pond Consulting

Notes from My Work with Salesforce and Cloud Technologies

Design, Chaos, and Tacos

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One thing I have never figured out is this, who decided that hard shell tacos were a hand food. I have seen hard shell tacos that have a flat edge so they can stand up while being filled. I have seen taco holders that help support the shell while being filled. So far, though, I have not seen a hard shell taco that can be eaten without either leaving large clumps of shell and filling on the plate or causing the consumer to look like a pale, hairless baboon snatching crumbs and tumbling lumps of taco with a grossly inadequate swipe of the tongue and gapping maw.

Some software implementations leave me feeling the same way. For many years I have listened to the issue emerge when a competent engineer but otherwise ‘challenged designer speaks of how they have constructed their application with omniscient knowledge of what the user community needs. The result is a software taco, tempting but clumsy.

In his book, The Design of Everyday Things D.A. Norman shed new light on my frustration. It isn’t me, it’s the taco. When I walk on an elevator and struggle to find the right button, or fiddle repeatedly with the stove top to turn on the right burner he explains that more often than not, the design is flawed.

Recently I was at a wedding (a great place for intense geek-to-geek conversations) and the conversation turned to my conversational companion’s line of work. He expressed great frustration with the limits imposed on him in which design for function was far down the list of factors driving development of his company’s site and related applications.

In my mind, the engineer’s axiom that the appearance of an application is just the “lipstick on the pig” misses the point. The point is that more often than not, how a thing looks reveals what a thing should do. Whether a button is red, teal, or haze gray is not irrelevant. It helps explain what the owner expects the button’s role to be.

Clearly we could go crazy about this… really we could… but we are so far to the other extreme. The development of use cases are often defined by persons who know the tasks they wish to be performed but are not the ones who will perform those tasks. Design is about understanding the users whose purposes will be achieved through the use of whatever tool we may provide.

When I started out as a developer I was asked to develop a software solution to replace a byzantine collection of paper based processes. As directed, I took a copy of the procedure manual home and build a solution that automated or streamlined the manual tasks being performed by employees of that company. As soon as I demonstrated the beta I was told by the manager I had it exactly right. Scarcely had she spoken when the staff who would use the solution announced that, “Really, that’s not how we do things at all.”

The designer who believes she knows all when it comes to users’ needs is going to make lots of tacos. Sadly, users will live with it because the lack of considered design is increasingly rare.

Oh, by the way, I really like crispy tacos…. in a salad where they belong.

Written by David Wilkerson

August 11, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Posted in General

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