Design Follies – Architect Knows Best

Carmen Miranda

Last (for now), but most definitely not least of the design follies is putting your own “vision” above the needs of the customer. Worse than falling for the latest technology fad or failing to adequate think things through, from an ethical standpoint, putting your ego ahead of your duty to your customer is as bad as making current design decisions with an eye to trying to justify prior mistakes. None of these reflect favorably on the perpetrator.

Whenever I consider this particular anti-pattern, I tend to remember the reality TV series Trading Spaces. In contrast to most of the designers on the show, one designer was renowned for ignoring the wishes of the owners, at some times deliberately doing things he was asked not to. Acting the diva might make for good television, but is abhorrent in terms of professionalism.

“Learn by shipping” can be a valid product development technique when dealing with the truly innovative. As the past two years in the operating system space have shown, that technique may not work as well in mature markets (note: phones/devices that can take on duties previously in the realm of personal computers = absolutely brilliant; computers downgraded to phone/tablet capabilities = not even close). Learning by listening can be much cheaper and just as effective. Giff Constable recently asserted that “…companies, whether startup or enterprise, that do not aggressively build learning into their processes will spend 3x to 5x more time and money…”. Failing to listen to pre-release criticism is, in my opinion, failure to learn at an opportune time.

Change represents both opportunity and danger, more so when we add in people’s reaction to change. The opportunity to innovate can disappear if we are insensitive to the customer’s potential reaction and the reasons for that reaction:

Imagine living in the same house for 10 years. Over that period, you’ve accumulated a lot of stuff.

To keep your house organized, you found places to put everything. Every place made sense to you. Most of the time, you have no trouble finding anything you want. Occasionally, there’s something you can’t find, like a tape measure, because you can’t remember where you last put it, but with a little poking around (and asking your housemates,) you come upon it and all is well.

One morning, you wake up and the house is completely different. Not a little different–completely different.

Nothing is where it used to be. The glasses in the kitchen, the clothes in your closets, and the furniture are reorganized. Even the walls and windows are all completely rearranged.

Whoever rearranged everything didn’t consult you. They didn’t warn you it was coming. They just took it upon themselves to make it happen.

In this “new” house, nothing seems to be where you’d expect it. The coffee cups are stored under your bed. You find your pants on the bottom shelf of the freezer. Logic doesn’t seem to be part of the organization scheme.

The worst part is that you still need to get to work on time. Usually, it only takes you about 45 minutes to get ready, so that’s all you allotted yourself. After all, you didn’t know this was coming, so why would you set your alarm differently? Nothing is where it’s supposed to be, you’re spending a lot of time trying to find everything, and the clock is running out–you’re going to be late and it isn’t your fault!

Jared M. Spool, “Designing Embraceable Change”

Reading that particular passage, I find my “inner voice” rising in pitch and cadence. It evokes a sense of hysteria, and understandably so. Later in the post, Jared points out a key concept when dealing with change:

It’s not that people resist change whole-scale. They just hate losing control and feeling stupid.

It’s important to remember that your intention is in most cases less important than the impact of change on the customer. Things like continuous deployment, although they may be adopted to improve customer satisfaction, can backfire if the intent and the effect do not align. As I’ve noted previously, user experience is extremely important. Unintentionally degrading that experience is bad enough. Purposely making people feel out of control and “stupid” is probably the one case where your intention is more important to the customer and not in a good way.


5 thoughts on “Design Follies – Architect Knows Best

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