User design: It’s not about art, but about solving problems

I’ve not written much lately around user design, largely because I’ve been really pleased with the changes that the company has made in regard to taking design seriously in my 3+ years here. When I joined, there were a ton of apps I felt I had to apologize for when meeting customers; this is no longer the case. I owe a lot of this to the work of Marine Leroux, Andrew McGrath, Daniel Lewington, Chris Bassett, and Erin Feller. They have been real champions for the mobile team in setting standards, engaging with the business units on design, and helping build great products across the board.

I came across a really good article on the subject of design that I think illustrates exceptionally well the challenge that user design faces these days; the notion that great UI “looks great.” In other words, as the article puts it:

“Too many designers are designing to impress their peers rather than address real business problems…[with] perfect pixel executions of flat design, but work that doesn’t address real business goals, solve real problems people have every day, or a take a full business ecosystem into consideration.”

I could not have said this better.

The thing I really want to stress is that, yes, we care how the product looks. But more importantly, we care about how the product functions and whether or not people will find it easy to use to complete the tasks in a logical and easy manner. We also make sure that anyone can use our products. National Public Radio (NPR) just ran a great story on the impact that accessible design can make.

In short, user design isn’t about pixel perfect renderings and creating something that you could find in the Louvre. Great design is about helping people solve problems efficiently. Only once you’ve understood the outcome you’re working towards, the components that you need to get to that outcome, and the interactions that will be necessary between user and content, can you begin to imagine and establish the visual beauty that becomes the final product. The article I mentioned earlier nicely summarizes this in the graphic below:

layers of design

We’ve come a long way in our design, and I continue to thank all of you for embracing the message and delivering fantastic experiences for our customers.