What is Great Design? Part 2

Ben Shneiderman wrote in his article Designing for Fun:

The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi talks about the flow experience of optimal performance when people are creatively facing challenges to achieve personal goals. When people are in the flow state they suspend their fears, put aside their anxieties, and engage fully in the experience of the moment. Concentration is intense, time vanishes, and people experience mastery. Sports commentators talk about being “in the zone”; archers talk about the target coming to the arrow.

We’ve all had these moments at some point in our life. If you didn’t click on the flow link above, you should. It’s fascinating stuff and something designers should pack away in their toolbox. In Part 1 of this article we talked about different aspects of the design to see if there was a single silver bullet to great design. There’s not. But don’t be discouraged. The good news is, I have my Three Laws of Great Design. Hey, if Asimov can have them for Robotics, I can have them for great design.

Now here’s where Ben and I agree on what we think are the foundation of a great design:

I believe designers must address three almost equally important goals that contribute to fun-in-doing: (1) provide the right functions so that users can accomplish their goals, (2) offer usability plus reliability to prevent frustration from undermining the fun and (3) engage users with fun-features.

Mine are a little more concise and easier to remember. I call mine the 3 F’s:

  • Function
  • Form
  • Fun

Let’s break these down:

  1. Provide the right functions so that users can accomplish their goals. Form without function might have it’s place in the fashion industry, but not in an interactive medium. Your users need to have a reason to use your product. It might be to blow off some steam in a first-person-shooter, a quick solitaire break at work to distract and entertain, or find that one channel out of the 450 available to you that has the show you want.
  2. Offer usability plus reliability to prevent frustration from undermining the fun. This is why my Mac is fun, and my Windows laptop is not. If my computer crashes, I am immediately ejected from “the zone.” My TiVo was rock-solid. It was dependable and highly usable. My DirecTV replacement fails in both those categories, but they are “functionally” equivalent.
  3. Engage users with fun-features. When the functionality and usability have been accommodated in the design, it is time to add the extra touches and flourishes that delight and amuse users. Apple did this by taking something as lame as data backup and making it very engaging with Time Machine.

I just attended the Vancouver International Gaming Summit and the Opening Keynote was an interview with Shane Kim, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Game Studios. Towards the end of the interview he was asked,

“Canada is a country of about 30 million, yet there seems to be a tremendous amount of great content coming from here. Why do you think that is?” His answer came quick.

“Canadians like to goof off.” He was quite serious. Shane still lives in Vancouver so he can get away with saying that before the session turns into a hockey bench-clearing brawl. He continued on.

“Canadians like to have fun. It’s very much a part of their culture, their being, who they are. That comes through in the games they make.”

What does that mean? Well, I think that means your signature in the design. Your mark. All designs have it. What’s yours? If you have a playful personality, it will shine through in your designs if you are working in an environment that fosters creativity. An environment that fosters creativity … sounds like another post to me!

I’d like to leave you with a parting quote from Ben:

It’s great that designers are turning attention to fun, as a separate design space, distinct from functionality, usability, and reliability. Did anyone notice that fun is part of functionality?

About the author

Terry Blanchard

I'm the Vice President of Engineering at Readdle, ex-Apple, design evangelist, drummer, and gadget junkie extraordinaire.

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