Good Product Design

Last year I wrote about a grease spatter guard made by Ikea that has a very small handle in the middle, requiring you to reach into the scorching corona of danger to lift up the guard.  Clever, no?  At work I use AutoCAD, a drafting program with its roots back in the dawn of computers and, evidently, its interface too.  To use AutoCAD is to enter the mind of a computer programmer.  Simple tasks involve dozens of steps through arcane menus, sub-menus, sub-sub-menus, and option tabs such that if you don’t leave breadcrumbs you’ll be lost forever.  At these times I weep for the future of humanity if it’s taken over by the engineers.  Bless the engineers, for they are the eggheads that get all this stuff to work.  But engineers don’t normally know much about the human race—their forte is machines and systems.  Good.  But what about the designers?

Enter Apple.  This company can seemingly do no wrong among its fans and even the detractors accept that The Little Company from Cupertino knows how to put together a widget like nobody else.  It’s not that Apple products have more features, are faster, cheaper (Lord knows we pay a premium), or functionally better.  No, it’s the company’s realization that products are only as good as their interface.  Designers take the well-intentioned products of the engineers and say, “Now how do we improve this so Grandma, tech geek, and three-year old can all use it?”  Apple doesn’t have exclusive rights to good design but they’ve taken technology that for so long has been produced by folks with a great mind for binary but a staggering ignorance of human psychology, and turned it into something beautiful and most importantly, usable.

Imagine that Microsoft are building a car because Apple built one last year and they want some market share, by God.  They get their best engineers on it and rush it out to market.  And their car model has the steering wheel in the trunk, the pedals hung off the front bumper, the only windows are in the floor of the car, and a thousand-horsepower engine hooked up to tricycle wheels.  Great features but how the hell do I drive it?  I’d rather be able to use 90% of the features on a device even if they are less powerful than the competitor’s, which is as inscrutable and poorly designed as most of the drek clogging the market today.

To all the product designers and engineers out there:  please join hands and sing Kumbiyah.  We need you both, and together you can make something phenomenal.  When you try to go it alone, however, you end up with AutoCAD and the Ikea grease guard.  Please save us from such a fate.

  1. Babs said:

    Well Hooray for Apple. They know how to make things work and practically run by themselves. Gimme 5 for Apple–actually gimme a ton of their stock! As for the screen guard–there has to be a better one out there–no doubt William-Sonoma has a good one for about $300!

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