Stop Blaming Yourself Because of Poor Design

“Good design enables bad design disables.”

– Paul Hogan, Architect and Founder of the European Institute of Design and Disability

A bike path with posts in the middle of the lane.

“Bad design increases the likelihood of human error”
Photo: ESA
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There’s a reason most people cannot learn or navigate through systems. They are not user centred nor really designed for user experience (UX). They’re not even really designed for humans. They are designed for enterprises, for purposes of management, security and to support business needs, and ironically, hailed for bringing about “efficiencies”. And because of this, they are frustrating for people to use, waste our time and make us doubt are ability to learn and understand. But it’s not our fault.

Don’t blame yourself. It’s, as Tim Gunn writes in the Washington Post, about fashion designers not making clothing for real women, “a design failure and not a customer issue“. Blaming the user is a function of enabling poor design.

Three urinals with eight "Please flush" signs

Blame the user, not the tool: In the age of self flushing toilets, who wants to touch the flusher in a public washroom?
Photo: Jim Hounslow

Most systems are developed, not designed, resulting in a clunky, frustrating user experience. Whereas, tools, such as, Web 2.0 tools provide benefit to users because they are relatively easy to learn and use, and, being a single use tool, they are good at what they do. They bring real value to users.

Good design is invisible. You don’t even know it’s there. Good design communicates ideas better and enables learners. Bad design is obvious. It looks and feels clunky. It confuses and frustrates people and increases the likelihood of human error and misunderstanding.

Push door with PUSH engraved on the pull handle.

Push or pull? You decide. Push door with PUSH engraved on the pull handle. Confused yet?
CC: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Most systems are based on old paradigms, old code and obsolete ideas borrowed from previous systems. Yes, there are some systems that are well designed and user centred, such as Apple OS using their Human Interface Guidelines. Or, in another discipline, Sweden’s Vision Zero which aims to redesign road systems to eliminate car passenger, pedestrian and cyclist’s deaths: They’re not car accidents, they’re inevitable collisions due to poor design. Better design can reduce “accidents”.

Facebook's interface.

Facebook offers a fairly complex, but an easy to use interface.

At my previous job, I evaluated about 40 LMSs, most for Human Resources (compliance training, training tracking), and some for higher education. Most of them were the same: clunky, difficult to learn to use and to use, and poorly designed. When we evaluated three LMSs for HR that I had short listed with the goal to choose one, they all appeared to be so similar in terms of look, features, clunky tools and overall poor design that they were indistinguishable form one another. None of them did anything very well. When we asked about accessibility, none of the vendors could answer our questions satisfactorily. Just pick one; they’re all as good and bad as each other.

A walkway ends in a wall and disconnected by grass and a fire hydrant.

Where the sidewalk ends: A walkway ends in a wall and disconnected by grass and a fire hydrant.
Photo: Jim Hounslow

In contrast, some of the higher ed LMSs are quite good: CanvasOpigno (based on Drupal CMS), and Moodle, with a well designed template. And what do they have in common? They are all open source systems, supported by world wide communities of developers focusing on one tool and one function, not proprietary systems developed by groups of people who think the same and borrow from one another and from each other’s products.

So don’t blame yourself if you have problems learning and navigating a system. It’s not your fault; it’s the fault of poor design.

For further reading, I suggest Ivana McConell’s article How Bad UX Makes Users Blame Themselves.


About jhounslow

Soccer enthusiast, cyclist, web developer, e-learning professional, educator, husband to a graduate student, and father of four daughters.
This entry was posted in CMS, Design, Facebook, LMS, Social Media, User Experience (UX). Bookmark the permalink.

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