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Getting Great Designs

“If you own it, you’ll learn how to work with it, then you’ll get used to it.” That is a colleague explaining why people who test drive BMWs and Mercedes vehicles for a week or so shouldn’t complain about the difficulties, complexities, and general user-ungainliness of the i-Drive and Comand systems, respectively.

“If you own it, you’ll learn how to work with it, then you’ll get used to it.” That is a colleague explaining why people who test drive BMWs and Mercedes vehicles for a week or so shouldn’t complain about the difficulties, complexities, and general user-ungainliness of the i-Drive and Comand systems, respectively. That point of view could be considered as “time heals all wounds.”

As vehicles become more electronics intense, the requisite complexity is going to get even more frustrating...or it may not, if those who are responsible for the interfaces spend time reading, understanding, appreciating, and implementing the ideas in Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge (MIT Press; $39.95). Moggridge, who happens to be the designer of the first laptop computer and a co-founder of IDEO, writes, “In order to create products that are enjoyable, satisfying to use, and aesthetically pleasing in behavior as well as shape, designers would need to learn how to design hardware and software as well as physical objects.” They would have to learn how to design “interactions between people and products that contain electronics.” He’s talking about products that, by and large, had never been seen before, did things that had never been done (or done in such a different manner that there’s little correlation), and that had to have sufficient appeal to sell on a mass-market basis. No mean feat.

The learning has been done primarily by those who are in or associated with Silicon Valley—not Detroit, Stuttgart, Munich, or Tokyo. This explains why the people with whom Moggridge talks to for the content of the book include Paul Bradley who designed the Microsoft mouse (the mouse which most people are probably familiar as it has given birth to offspring galore), Jeff Hawkins who developed the Palm, Will Wright who designed the Sims, and many others, who have been responsible for things ranging from the DoMoCo i-mode cell phone service to the i-Pod, from Google to the website for the music of Philip Glass (www.philipglass.com/glassengine). One important, and relevant, observation from Cordell Ratzlaff, designer of the Mac OS X, should be taken to heart by designers of things other than operating systems and computers:

“People don’t use a computer to enjoy the operating system; they don’t care about setting their system preferences, nor do they care about choosing what kinds of scrollbars they want. They use a computer because they want to create something; they want to communicate with somebody; they want to express their own personality, everything from writing a novel to balancing their checkbook—some more than others, but it’s all about accomplishing something that really doesn’t have anything to do with using a computer. The computer is just a tool.

“As interaction designers, we need to remember that it is not just about the interface, it’s about what people want to do! To come up with great designs, you need to know who those people are and what they are really trying to accomplish.”

How many vehicle systems and subsystems have you interacted with that lead you to think that the designer really wasn’t thinking about the ends as much as the means, about the design and not about what is desired? Probably too many, because when someone is buying a car or truck, one such impediment is too many.—GSV