To say you’re a user experience designer or developer is redundant. Everything you’re creating is ultimately going to be used by someone. That’s why Aral Balkan (@aral) refers to himself as an experience designer. “We need to better understand humans so we can design for humans,” said Balkan in his presentation “A Happy Grain of Sand: Great Design Gives People Superpowers!” at the Future Insights Live conference in Las Vegas. When you develop a great product with great design, you can achieve a point of delight that makes users feel as if they have superpowers. Achieving this is what Balkan refers to as the “Superman effect.” “Design something that makes the technology invisible and creates an experience that is indivisible from magic,” Balkan said. It’s important to always keep users first and foremost in your mind when you’re designing products, because if you don’t you can fall into a situation where the they have to adapt to the product, rather than have the product adapt to them. “The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers,” said Balkan, quoting the columnist Sydney J. Harris.

Principles of Product Development and Design

  • Proximity implies relation: If you want a user to interact with something, you need to put it close to the point of action. Balkan showed two examples of toilet design that failed because the flush button wasn’t close to the toilet or hidden when you lift the lid.
  • Out of sight, out of mind: It’s important to put things that aren’t used out of sight. To designers and developers, this technique is known as layering.
  • Control the entire product experience: Steve Jobs famously said, “We make the whole widget.” It refers to the fact that in many cases individual elements can work, even though the whole often fails. If you control the whole process you can make everything work. That’s if you’re intentional about it.
  • An experience is only as good as its weakest part: Similar to the above point. You can lower the level of the whole experience with one poorly placed flush button.
  • Avoid rites of passage: When people see confusing interfaces they get upset. You don’t need to make it complicated. Respect user effort. Think about the end result of what a person wants. For example, with a washing machine they just want clean clothes. They don’t want to do the wash.
“We do not need more things. We just need things that work better,” Balkan observed.

Great Design IS Your Business Plan

Great design is a sign of a design-led organizational structure and development process. Design thinking must trickle down. The CEO has to mandate it. If something is designed poorly, don’t blame the designer, blame the organization, Balkan says. For those creating products, Balkan said, “Design leads development and development informs design. It’s an iterative process. In between each iterative level we test.”