User-fiendish Design

The letter of the day, for the A-Z Blogging Challenge, is “U”.  I wasn’t really sure what would be a good subject, and then I thought perhaps it was time to inject a small-scale rant about one of my pet peeves.  Feel free to keep moving on by if this doesn’t interest you, I won’t be offended.

Now, in designing things – physical objects, software interfaces and gizmos that incorporate both of these – much has been made of “user-friendly design“.  And yet I often find examples of what I call “user-fiendish design” – things that seem to have been designed expressly to make their use difficult, obscure or downright unpleasant.

I won’t single any one product out here – your experience with the same product may be profoundly different than mine – but I’m sure you will have run across a few that provoke an “Ah-ha! I know exactly what he means” reaction.

Most often, I suspect, these user-fiendish designs are the result of “design by committee” – there’s no overarching coherency to the design; as they say “Too many cooks spoil the broth“.  That’s not to say that a design which is the product of the vision of a single individual is automatically going to be better – it could just end up being coherently bad (although I can tolerate that better than the alternative – at least if it’s consistent, interactions with it can be learned more easily than where the same action produces different results depending on where the interaction takes place).

Since I would expect that most people who are designing things for other people to use have good intentions (they say “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions), I can only surmise that the existence of user-fiendish products is simply an indication that there are a whole lot of unique ways of looking at the world and the things we interact with.

And I can only hope that any of the various things I have been involved in the design of over the years haven’t left too many people muttering “user-fiendish design” under their breath while using them.

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