How to Design for Real Humans
Think about the items you use everyday. Why do you sit on that chair? Why do you put your feet in those shoes? The answer is often hard to explain if someone were to actually ask you these questions in person; it’s weird to dive in and really think about it. We create an emotional attachment to inanimate objects and have no clue why.
Humans are imperfect. We learn through trial and error. Why does the iPhone, after all these years, only have one button on the front surface? It’s because the more buttons you add, the more confused humans get.
During the first week of my Computer Integrated Manufacturing class in high school I was asked what was wrong with this picture to the right. Spoilers — it’s not something you should give to your kids. Here’s where the You Had One Job meme kicks in. The adults that designed this bottle didn’t think about the people who would interact with this product. Yes, it’s just a bottle of windshield cleaner and yes, it probably works great on windshields. All I can say is bad design is everywhere and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how a child or someone that doesn’t read labels would utilize this in a way that was unintended.
Good human-centered interaction design is present when a user doesn’t have to read instructions, waste time, or even think about the product they are using. Remember the first time you unboxed an iPhone? Exactly my point. It is present when a product is so perfectly designed around the human that they no longer have to figure it out or learn how it works. It was designed for humans, not the other way around.
One of the most obvious examples of great interaction design is Google.com. Everything on that page, except for the weird I’m feeling lucky button makes sense. There is no room for our minds to get lost. It is simply a white page with a big, clean search bar ready for anything you type at it. You don’t even need to click the search bar, Google knows why you’re visiting for the 50th time today.
“Great design is making something memorable and meaningful.” -Dieter Rams
Design must have eccentricity. The object on the left was designed by Dieter Rams in 1959. This device is older than the majority of you that are reading this. Although this product was designed 57 years ago, the details, shapes, and materials used are timeless. Just from the combination of leather and aluminum alone you have a different relationship with the product. If you look at Bang & Olufsen products today you will see that many carry the same design features. That’s because these design features are timeless, well thought out, and practical. It will never get old.
Design is confusing. I think it’s because it is humans that we are designing for. Humans are imperfect and entirely different from one another. It makes sense that if no two people are the same, one product cannot perfectly fulfill both people’s needs in the same way. We naturally crave imperfection and the products we fall in love with often feel as though they were made specifically for us.
It would be boring if every house was a minimalistic white box. That would be a utopian society. Btw this cool, quirky house is in Nagoya, Japan. Only in Japan will you see such a home with a trap door as the only window on the second floor — very eccentric.
An apparent example of human-centered design is tailoring. When I get the chance to visit India, I enjoy picking beautiful, breathable shirting materials and meeting with talented tailors to get shirts custom made according to my body, style, and needs. If no two people have the same body, why should we all squeeze into the same exact clothes? It’s not like people actually fit perfectly in small, medium, and large. That’s just efficient and easy for giant clothing companies to make and distribute to the masses.
I don’t think this is just a clothing issue. I think all products should be made and designed around the user from the ground up. And I don’t mean just customizing the color of the plastic panels on a smartphone; I mean entirely designing the product and tailoring it to the human’s unique needs. I may not know exactly how that would look as of right now, but it’s something that designers like me must work on in the years to come.
Design is not about creating a skin for a product. It’s about sculpting a relationship between product and human. Products should serve us, not the other way around.
This is why I’m passionate about design. I’m excited by the future of the discipline and where product design may lead. I want to be involved in the journey and I wish to make my mark on the world through this creative field.
This was written by Krishna Rammohan. 17 year old from SF Bay Area. Founder & Designer of Backwaters Brand: “Indian artistry meets minimalist design.” He will be studying product design at Art Center College of Design.