If I wanted to follow John Maeda‘s advice, I would reduce the assignment from 800 words to 8 bullet points. Simplify.

  1. K.I.S.S.
  2. Messes can be cleaned up
  3. Think outside the box (or the basket)
  4. Cumbersome design makes unenjoyable tasks even more so
  5. Things that you accept as they are because that’s how they’ve always been can sometimes be made better
  6. It helps to know where you want to end up before you begin
  7. Good products are about more than just tools: they are lifestyles
  8. Even the XBox can be boring when you turn play into a science

But that’s fairly cryptic, and a poorly-designed attempt to synthesize the course, as it does not effectively convey the purpose of this assignment. Allow me to expand.

  1. Simplicity is often the key to good design. The Barcelona chair is as popular today as it was at its release in 1930 because of its elegant minimalism. John Maeda’s book The Laws of Simplicity teaches us that when in doubt, see what can be shrunk, hidden or embodied. Reduce, organize, save time, actually read the instruction manual, know when to add complexity (because things that are overly simple are booor-ing), convey emotion, show trust, know when you can’t simplify, subtract the obvious, and add meaning to what’s there. “Use less, gain more.” In a nutshell: zen.
  2. Wireframes can help clean up poorly-designed websites or serve as building blocks for constructing outstanding ones. By reducing a website to its most basic components, we gain a better understanding of its flaws and how to fix them. Wireframes are flexible- they can easily be altered over the course of the design process. Use them as tools to prototype and improve the design.
  3. Creative thinking is an attribute of all good designers. Even wacky, off-the-wall ideas may lead to something executable and practical. The guys and gals at IDEO took the typical shopping cart- plagued with usability problems- and through an intense charrette pooled their ideas into something new and better. However, because people have pre-established ideas (mental models) about what a product should look like or do, reversing or changing a long-held belief or way of doing things can backfire. Which is probably why IDEO’s shopping cart didn’t make it much further than its trial run at Whole Foods.
  4. Anything can have poor usability. A website. Socks. My kitchen sink. Sometimes you can get rid of the products and buy a more user-friendly one (socks). Other times, you’re stuck with what you’ve got (my kitchen sink). Some products can be improved, some are already as good as they’re going to get. Those that can be improved might benefit from focus groups and usability studies to gather feedback; understanding the user through personas, shadowing, and remote user research is important. However, these studies are almost completely useless without some sort of statistically significant way to measure the results.
  5. We sometimes accept things as they are because they have always been that way and comfortably fit our mental models, without thinking about ways to improve upon them. The classroom as we know it has been as it is practically since the dawn of organized teaching: an instructor up front with pupils in rows facing him or her. Desks have changed somewhat, writing media has evolved from small chalkboards to spiral notebooks to laptops, but the basic concept of the classroom has not. There is much potential for improvement. Do not fear change.
  6. Task flow diagrams, site maps and use cases help us visually understand the paths users take to perform a function with a site or product. Understanding what said function needs to do and eliminating any barriers to performing said function helps improve a product’s usability. However, do not blindly remove a feature without examining its usefulness. Any changes much be changes made for the better: kaizen. Some tedious tasks are already at the lowest common denominator.
  7. Service envy, as defined in Designing Interactions, is “enabl(ing) people to  express who they are through the use of the services instead of ownership of things.” A challenge for many companies is creating service envy: getting customers to use their products because the products are part of the consumers’ identity. Apple has this nailed, AT&T is looking to do so.
  8. Not really much to say on this one- I was pretty pumped for the guest speaker from XBox and then underwhelmed by the presentation. I guess it’s kind of like an over-hyped summer blockbuster or Wolfram Alpha: something that promises to be life-changing yet doesn’t deliver. It just goes to show that no matter how slick your design is or how incredible your product or service promises to be, it will fail if it doesn’t meet its purpose.

Applying these theories will be much more effective than burying your head in the sand and hoping for the best.

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