Good design is like good writing – UX Planet
What makes for good design?
To me, good design enables someone to accomplish something in the simplest way possible. It communicates its purpose with clarity. It’s accessible and can, therefore, be enjoyed by as many people as possible.
I find these qualities reflected in good writing. In both cases, the work reveals a unique point of view, communicates a clear purpose, and presents itself in the simplest way possible. The creator (or team of creators) does the hard work to ensure the end result is meaningful and easy to use.
Forget your generalized audience…it doesn’t exist.
Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person — a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one. — John Steinbeck
In both writing and design, good work tends to embody a unique point of view. Creators (and their teams) take the time to understand a single perspective inside out — to see the world as this person does, and to create a tailor-made solution for them.
Design Thinking encourages perspective-taking with an exercise called Statement Starters. It helps frame problems from a detailed point in view. An example statement might be: How might we help a father show his love to his daughter with ice cream?
From here, teams try to understand what the father wants, what is preventing him from getting what he wants, and how they might be able to help.
History has a great example of this. The bendy straw was invented in the 1930s, by a father struggling to watch his daughter drink a milkshake from a tall straw. He placed a screw inside the straw and wrapped dental floss around it to create ridges, allowing the straw to bend over the edge of the glass. The invention was inspired by a father’s love for his daughter, but it helped many more people (e.g., hospital patients who have trouble bending their heads to reach a tall straw). Eventually, it became a common item in restaurants and households.
Design is thinking made visual.
“Design is thinking made visual.” — Saul Bass
In writing, it’s easy to let your thoughts spill onto a page. The test of a good writer, however, is their ability to carve away unnecessary details, in order to communicate their ideas clearly to the reader.
The same can be said of design. Every form factor, visual element, or interaction communicates an idea about how a product will improve someone’s life. If the idea is presented clearly — and more importantly, understood — people can determine with ease if the product will improve their lives. If the idea is unclear and its purpose cloudy, then its usefulness is difficult to evaluate.
Enterprise software is a fantastic example of this. Traditionally, enterprise software decisions were made top-down, and due to the complexity of these systems, employee training was often required. Recently, enterprise tools have begun to resemble consumer products, reflecting an emphasis on product and design. Software companies — like Atlassian, Dropbox, Google, Sketch, Slack, and Workday — are distilling complex enterprise needs into easy-to-understand interfaces. Employees are able to evaluate for themselves how these tools meet their individual needs.
As simple as possible, but not simpler.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” — Albert Einstein
In both writing and design, psychology plays a function in how ideas are presented and how well they are understood.
In grade school, I dreaded the unimaginative format of school essays: intro, thesis, argument, counterargument, conclusion. Only later did I come to appreciate the familiar, linear format that can be understood by a broad audience.
Similarly, designers understand what is familiar by considering the mental models of their audience. This involves collecting data from users, constructing a representation of their worldview, and assembling design elements in a way that is familiar to the user. The challenge is assembling the pieces in the simplest way possible, but no simpler (whereby functionality gets lost). Discovering and designing for familiarity ensures products are easy to use and easy to understand.
For the most part, I suspect these qualities speak for themselves, and success in the marketplace is partially reflected in how well these qualities are carried out by writers and designers alike.