Friday, September 22, 2006

The Lifecycle of Design: Part 4

Part 4 of the series on design lifecycles.

Joshua Porter (me)
Luke, you’re right to ask: “Why not have something that functions well and has great usability?”. We should, of course. I’m talking priorities here, and if we had to put one ahead of the other, that’s where I would put them. There is a parallel in furniture making…the Shakers, who build amazing furniture, center their philosophy around this same idea:

If it is not useful or necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to make it.
If it is useful and necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to enhance it by adding what is not an integral part of its usefulness or necessity.
If it is both useful and necessary and you can recognize and eliminate what is not essential, then go ahead and make it as beautifully as you can.
(more on Ward Cunningham’s site - creator of Wiki)

But back to the definition problem, I think we’re getting to the crux of our differences. I’m definitely taking a broader view of design than you are. Let me explain why.

I don’t buy that the practice of design is only the addition of context and hierarchy to content (though that is definitely part of design). I think that content is more important to design than that, just like wood is to furniture. The choice of content, choice of language, choice of wording, are all design decisions. I say this because they all affect how well the design works for people. They are part of the designed artifact.

Imagine for a moment that the Challenger information was in Russian. Wouldn’t changing it to English be a design decision? I think so. This is changing the context of use. So the very content exists in context, so to speak. Taking away content is a very valid way to improve a design. What Tufte did is that he improved the design dramatically by taking away content and clarifying what was left. It was poorly designed before, failing to communicate what was necessary. It became much easier to digest, and is better design."    (Continued via Bokardo)    [Usability Resources]

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