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Nobody Wants To Use Your Product

Every morning, designers wake up to happily work on their products, be they digital or physical, with an inner belief that people will want to use their products and will have a blast doing so.

Perhaps that is a slight generalization; however, as designers, we tend to have a natural desire for each project we work on to be the best it can be, to be innovative and, most importantly, to make a difference.

Oh man, my product will be amazing! It will be full of features, options and settings. People will use it every day and love using it!

– A designer

Here is a little revelation. People are not really into using products. Any time spent by a user operating an interface, twisting knobs, pulling levers or tapping buttons is time wasted. Rather, people are more interested in the end result and in obtaining that result in the quickest, least intrusive and most efficient manner possible. And these are two fundamentally different concepts — usage versus results — which, at the very least, differentiate good product design from poor product design or, on a smaller scale, a good feature from a bad one.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

I still find a lot of products today, be they digital or physical, to be too complex and feature-driven. Shouldn’t we as designers instead be looking to remove complexity for users as much as possible or as much as allowed for by current technology, by making our products fit more seamlessly into their daily lives and routines? I feel that we simply don’t and, more worryingly, that we still haven’t learned lessons from the past.

The Beginnings Of Web Design Link

If we go back some 15 to 20 years ago, web design was all about visual design. Older readers will recall the days of 2advanced Studios5 and other similar blockbuster websites. They were gorgeous, with amazing Flash animation and carefully crafted images and pixels. If we were to look back at these websites today through the filter of modern UX design, though, we could say for certain that the experience at that time was less than desirable.

Would anyone today be willing to stare at a loader for five minutes before entering a website? Perhaps, if they were desperately trying to buy concert tickets — otherwise, the answer is always certainly “no.” There were even preloaders for loaders, because loaders were so intricate! These websites were essentially crafted to be admired; they were pieces of art, and the actual benefit to the user, the result, was secondary, if that.

Perhaps in those early days we didn’t know any better because we humans rarely learn from other fields, and we are terrible at translating knowledge learned in one field to another. No studies or best practices for the web were available, but over time, as digital design has grown (encompassing interaction, visual, interface and motion design), we have come to the realization that the less time a user spends on a website — especially a tool or service — the better.

Who would have thought in the early days of Google Search that Google would want to shave milliseconds from the search process so that users could get away from Google as quickly as possible. Google was among the first digital companies to realize, or simply to inherit knowledge from other industries at the time, that time spent with the product itself was wasted time and that the quickest route to the result is the best way to design.

Streamlining The Result Link

When you think about it, do you really want to work on heating up your food, or do you just want your food to be hot? This is why microwave ovens can be found in basically every modern kitchen; it removes as much work as possible from the process of heating food. Of course, quite a lot of manufacturers still do not realize this and make their microwave ovens overly complicated with too many buttons and settings.

A typical manufacturer still thinks that users stand in front of their microwave and ponder for a few minutes which precise setting to use and then press a bunch of buttons to execute their carefully crafted heating plan. In reality, one needs only two settings: power and time. Honestly, in a lot of cases people need just the time setting. The usual scenario is that you toss the plate of food into the microwave, set the timer and that’s it.

August Smart Lock6 is on the same path. August realizes that users do not want to manually lock and unlock their doors. What users actually want is to have their house locked when they are away and automatically unlock as they approach the door. (A digression: Actually, that is not all what users want. Users want security, which could potentially be solved through means other than a locked door, but let’s not get into that.)

While we are on the issue of security, do people really want to have to type a password into their phone to unlock it, or do they simply want their phone to be accessible only to them (and other “whitelisted” people), remaining locked for anyone else? That is why Apple’s introduction of Touch ID was such a big deal; it finally brought about a reliable and user-friendly method of locking a phone, while removing all of the complexity of unlocking it. Using Touch ID feels as if the phone is actually not locked at all — as soon as you press the home button to wake up the phone, the phone just unlocks.

Great Design Decisions Link

This difference in approach — building for features versus building for result — can be seen in numerous products today, both digital and physical. The main reason why some products are great is that they take the load off of users and assist them in making decisions. If you observed these products from the outside, you’d think that their manufacturers do not want people to use them; on closer inspection, people do use them but in a seamless manner, still reaping all of their benefits.

Nest Thermostat Link

You are probably familiar with Nest Thermostat. What makes it great is that it actively learns about the behavioural habits and patterns of the people living in the home — and so unintrusively that users become totally unaware of it. Sooner or later, they forget that the thermostat is even around, because their home is always at the optimal temperature.

Nest Learning Thermostat7
Nest8 Learning Thermostat (View large version)

Dropbox Link

We all love Dropbox. But do we really “use” it? Dropbox figured out a long time ago that people really do not want to sync files across multiple devices, but rather want to manage and sync from one accessible source. Even before Dropbox existed, we could do all of that syncing ourselves: FTP files to a server, go to a second computer, download files from the server, and so forth. But why go to such effort to keep files in sync? The majority of users do not want that; they just want their files to be kept in sync.

Google’s Search Form Link

In the early days of Google Search, the flow was this: click the search field, start typing, hit enter, and only then would search results be displayed. Furthermore, the ordering of search results had barely any logic behind them, resulting in all sorts of weird suggestions on the first page. Many will recall having to go to page two or three of the search results. Gasp!

However, as soon as technology and design allowed for it, Google began to remove all unnecessary components. Today, the cursor auto-focuses on the input field, and search results are displayed instantly upon the very first character being typed, with results sorted by Google’s all-powerful machine brain, which returns the most relevant results at the very top. Keyboard shortcuts also activate links quickly. Hitting “Tab” triggers a small arrow that can be controlled with the keyboard arrows, and of course hitting “Enter” launches the highlighted link.

Google’s Search Results Link

Google Search provides answers to a lot of questions right on the search results page. It is already common knowledge that it is an excellent calculator; with time, it has evolved to provide even more useful data and answers.

Google's instant currency converter9
Google’s instant currency converter (View large version10)

For instance, you’ll find company addresses, hours of operation, currency rate calculations, stock information and more. As a result, there is often no need to proceed to another page, unless more detailed analysis or information is required.

Google's stock information at a glance11
Google’s stock information at a glance (View large version12)

GOV.UK Info Pages Link

A good example of a government website, GOV.UK13, presents key information for each major item at the very top of the page, freeing visitors from having to find key information in large blocks of text. The website goes a step further by placing key information in the description meta tag, making it immediately visible right on the search results page.

Looking for VAT rates? GOV.UK has you covered14
Looking for VAT rates? GOV.UK has you covered. (View large version15)

Amazon’s Dash Button Link

Amazon is also working wonders with Dash16. Dash has a simple yet brilliant design, freeing the user from having to interact directly with Amazon’s website at all. The button, purchased from Amazon’s website, is hardcoded with a single brand product.

During the rather simple set-up process, done via a phone over a Bluetooth connection, the user specifies a particular brand’s item to be baked into the button and selects a size, flavor, color and so on, depending on the available options for that particular item. Once Dash is set up, pressing the button automatically executes a chain of commands, resulting in that product being delivered to the owner. All of the magic takes place behind the scenes.

Dash button, a consumer’s dream!17
Dash button18, a consumer’s dream!

Furthermore, when Amazon Prime Air’s drone-delivery service finally kicks in, an ordered product will likely be able to be delivered to its destination within minutes.

And I know you’re thinking about it: Amazon Sense paired with Amazon Teleport — a detector in the house that identifies when there is no toilet paper left, resulting in the paper being instantly restocked. People do not want to have to drive to a store, walk the aisles, wait in line, interact with a cashier, drive back, and then run up to the toilet all red-faced. All users want is for toilet paper to be stocked in their house at all times.

App Store Updates Link

Apple realized that most users do not want to go to the effort of always checking whether their applications are up to date. So, it now pushes updates automatically, while the computer is in sleep mode or not in use, meaning that users will come back to find new versions up and running, with little or no effort on their part.

Mac App Store19
Mac App Store (View large version20)

At this point, I might be beating a dead horse, but in stark contrast to Apple, consider how Adobe handles updates to its Flash player. For each update, a Mac user is required to download a new DMG file, manually start the installer and restart the browser. It is a painful process that makes the user work. Is it too much to ask these days for the latest version to be automatically installed at all times?

Oh man, not again! A new Flash player?!21
Oh man, not again! A new Flash player?!22

Oh man, not again! A new Flash player?!

User Authentication Such As Facebook Connect Link

You probably know where I’m going with this one. As mentioned, it’s such an obvious roadblock. Users do not always want to have to create accounts; they just want go in and explore a website. Nobody wants to go through the annoying process of typing in an email address or, worse, a username (“Sorry username is taken… Sorry, username2 is taken as well.”), a password (“Sorry, your password needs to contain one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter and one number.”), their blood type, their mother’s maiden name, and then still have to verify their email address. Nobody wants to use a registration form. Users just want to get stuff done without messing around with the interface.


Multiple sign-in options on The Verge (View large version24)

Reducing And Removing The Interface Link

Removing as much as possible from an interface is a rather old concept. Books have been written25 about it, talks given, too26, and hard-hitting designers such as Oliver Reichenstein27 have been quoted over and over again28. People such as Luke Wroblewski29 are suggesting30 that we may have taken this paradigm a step too far, as demonstrated by the no-interface approach of the Apple Watch as well as newer versions of smartphone operating systems, which force users to memorize intricate ways to navigate an interface with various gestures.

Yes, designers sometimes take things too far, sacrificing usability for aesthetics and slickness. However, when design (as in “how things work”) is done properly, the reduction ultimately benefits the user.

Some people still don’t seem to really understand this concept of reduction and removal of every aspect of a design. This has brought us to the point where production people (not so much users, but rather people who work on the web) are beginning to feel that all websites are starting31 to look the same32.

Headers have been made to look the same. The look works because users instantly understand what is going on: logo on the left, log-in form on the right, perhaps search as well. It’s standardized because it causes the least amount of friction, the least amount of having to “use” the website, and it gets users to the results they need.

All websites of a type are the same — all online stores are the same, all blogs are the same, all news websites, all portfolios. Users recognize patterns, which is a good thing because they are able to complete their tasks more quickly. They do not have to worry about where things are. They simply ingest the content, instead of trying to decipher mysterious patterns, unreadable fonts or tricky interactions.

We’ve made registration forms the same because they work: email address, password, and then click the button. Or, for even greater simplicity, just click a single button to log in via Facebook, Google or Twitter.

We’ve made imagery all the same because it works: big clean photos, with full-screen zooming for details. We show smiling happy people because psychology tells us that people relate to this. We show high-quality photos of vacation destinations because travelers are attracted to these views. They convert better.

We’ve made big call to actions with ultra-readable text because users do not want to look for these buttons; they just want to complete their task. We obsess over typography, painstakingly setting font sizes and pairing typefaces, for the sole purpose of minimizing reading time and maximizing a brand’s visual impact. We do this because users do not want to read; they just want to experience the content.

What Does The Future Hold? Link

We know what the past looked like and what the present looks like, so what’s in store for designers? I think that interfaces will be further reduced, and stuff will just happen and information will surface on its own, not unlike Nest Thermostat and Google Now. Fresh milk will be delivered to your door just as the last bottle runs out. Applications will be updated on their own, rather than have to be updated manually. Phones will be magically charged all the time, instead of having to be charged manually.

Maps will give driving directions, automatically bypassing heavy traffic. Information will be made available according to the environment of the user. Registration forms will not pester people. Hopefully, passwords will be removed altogether, replaced with either reliable fingerprint reading or something even better. (Another prediction: Apple will integrate Touch ID into the trackpads of its laptops. Not this year, not next year, but sometime soon, Apple will finally take the password behind the shed and put it out of its misery.)

  • We will design processes, not screens.
  • We will design systems, not individual pieces.
  • We will design less “using,” and more getting results.

What You Can Do Link

Know That Your Product Is a Nuisance Link

Understand that your product is a necessary evil. Realize that, for the user, it would be best if your product did not exist at all and yet the results of the product somehow magically did exist.

Use Known Patterns Link

Expand on and modify known patterns only when absolutely necessary and only if it really makes it simpler for the user to reach their goal. Reinventing hot water, just for the sake of reinvention, makes no sense. (I know it’s just a saying, but we actually do need to reinvent the wheel. If we didn’t reinvent the wheel, we would still have the stone wheel. Hot water does not need reinvention.)

Do Not Fall in Love With Your Product Link

The time will soon come when either you or the competition will come up with a better version of your product, and that product will have a smaller footprint in the user’s life, offering greater benefits.

Work Backwards Link

We have to add as little complexity as is technically possible to get the user to the result. Suppose we are tasked with redesigning the commuting process. Guided by our core principle, we would start with the premise that people do not want to commute; they just want to be where they need to be.

  1. Working backwards, the ideal method to solve the time and effort wasted on commuting would be teleportation. Because teleportation has some “minor” technical limitations at the moment, we need to add some complexity for the user.
  2. Let’s introduce the complexity of a car. But note that we have introduced just the vessel itself — an empty shell, so to speak — without any other complexity for the user. The complexity lies on our side, and we (the designers and engineers) have to automate the car’s movement and create a solution for ordering the car and telling it where to take the user. The law of conservation of complexity33 states that complexity, much like energy, cannot be destroyed; it can just be moved and shuffled around. (In the meantime, Tesla has updated its cars with a self-driving function34.)
  3. At the time of writing, fully automated driverless cars are still not available to the general public, unfortunately. The issues are largely legal, less technical. Thus, we have to introduce a piece of complexity called the “driver”. Note that the driver here is not the user. The complexity of driving is delegated away from the user, and the solution accounts for the process of ordering the car, communicating the destination and handling all of the other logistics that go with it, such as payment.
  4. If we remove the framework that allows other people to act as drivers (the “taxi” framework), then we shift the complexity of driving to the user. This introduces huge complexity because it requires the user to have various licenses and a lot of knowledge. But at least maintenance of the car will be taken care of, for the most part.
  5. Introducing the last layer of complexity, the user not only has to know how to drive and operate the car, but has to be a knowledgeable mechanic, too. Furthermore, the car itself is not really user-friendly and requires constant care in order to keep running. Hello, Mr. Ford, nice to meet you.

Figure out a way to remove such complexities. Figure out how to remove entire pieces of your product or interface, while keeping the user on the path to the desired result. Replace those evil elements with cleverly coded software, automation, sensors, data-crunching, prediction and better hardware. If something is not technically possible, that’s a great opportunity to create new value! Invent stuff!

There’s Still Room For Creativity In Information Design Link

So far, we’ve been talking about task-based interfaces, but what about information design? Even though nobody wants to use your product or website, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for creativity in information design. We can still add style, as long as it contributes to the overall experience. As you will see in the following examples, that translates into better comprehension of information:

Conclusion Link

It’s up to us to remove complexity for the user and to minimize the footprint of our product in the user’s life. Any amount of time users spend operating your product is time wasted, and time is the one resource they cannot get back. Remember Larry Tesler’s law of conservation of complexity, and start offloading complexity from the user onto yourself.

Yes, this requires a lot of work, but that is how you will differentiate your product from the competition’s. Guide the user to the same (or better!) result through fewer steps, less friction and less work.

Theoretically, the ultimate goal for any product is to be completely removed from the user’s perspective. Work towards that goal because nobody wants to use your product.

People just want the benefit of using it.

(md, ml, jb, al)

Footnotes Link

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Goran Peuc is a designer, speaker and author originally from Zagreb, Croatia, now living in Dublin, Ireland. He works as a principal UX designer at SAP improving the overall UX of SAP applications for some of the world’s biggest companies. Goran is currently working as a design lead on cutting edge “lab” projects, exploring new technologies, design opportunities, and challenges. His side project Gold and Letters is delivering amazing gold plated typography posters. He is always up for a pint of good beer & chat in Dublin, or in Palo Alto CA, depending on where the business takes him. Follow Goran on Twitter, Medium or Facebook.

  1. 1

    Matthew Riches

    January 14, 2016 2:52 pm

    Awesome post, thank you.

  2. 2

    Olivier Mercier

    January 14, 2016 6:24 pm

    When i read this quote you have:

    “Oh man, my product will be amazing! It will be full of features, options and settings. People will use it every day and love using it!
    – A designer”

    I find it rather strange. I never ever met a designer who mentioned the quantity of features, and especially settings as a positive thing.

    • 3

      That’s what we call – a joke. A hyperbole even!

    • 5

      Anna Lewandowski

      January 27, 2016 6:51 pm

      That was exactly my thought! I’m a designer and I never said my product will be full of features, options and settings! Never! I would rather fight with product management to reduce features and complexity.

  3. 6

    Great post. Very helpful. I have to say, Nest is one of the greatest designs out there as far as the internet of things and technology that learns from your behaviors. A form of “artificial intelligence”. But their UI is pretty spot on and even delightful!

  4. 8

    “Here is a little revelation. People are not really into using products. Any time spent by a user operating an interface, twisting knobs, pulling levers or tapping buttons is time wasted. Rather, people are more interested in the end result and in obtaining that result in the quickest, least intrusive and most efficient manner possible”

    I don’t agree with that. If the product or interface is designed right, people can *love* interacting with it. It simply isn’t as cut ‘n dried as you think.

    One easy example that comes to mind, is the insanely popular ‘candy crush saga’. Without all the animations, sound effects & clever game play delays it would be dull. If you just ended up with the points – the ‘end result’ – nobody would play it.

    There’s a lot to be said for the idea of a reward based interface, or ‘gamification’ in design.

    There’s also a great deal of value in sometimes slowing down the end result in order to capture the right information.

    • 9

      There are two aspects to your comment. First is the interface of a tool, and another is game design.

      To address the first one – no matter how nice and delightful the UX of a tool is, after a while it just becomes a tool. As an example, I will give you the most obvious one – iPhone. When you get a new one, you play with it (especially if there is new iOS on it) just for the sake of playing with it. You unlock it, you swipe around, you just play with it. But after a week or two, you stop doing that and it becomes just a tool. You only care about efficiency of it, how fast can you reply to messages, how fast can you dial someone, how fast can you mark something on the To Do list.

      Second, game design is a special type of design, where the main purpose is indeed to keep the player playing and enjoying for as long as possible. But game design is not the same as tool design. If game design was the same as UI/tool design, then Super Mario would be a really short game – the Princess would be on the very first screen, and player would have to just press “A” to save the Princess.

      • 10

        So people stop loving the interaction with their iPhone less once they get used to it?

        That satisfying swipe to unlock? The haptic feedback? The fact that humans can get some joy from repetition?

        I agree that the end result is what people want, but it doesn’t mean the method of getting there shouldn’t be an experience too!

        • 11

          These are not mutually exclusive. You can love the interface (boy, have we gone far, we are loving interfaces now), but still consider it nothing more than a tool and wanting it to just to its damn job.

          • 12

            The sweeping generalisation “be they digital or physical” left this argument fairly open ended to be honest. If you’d honed it down a tad, maybe to form interfaces, rather than throwing “physical” into the mix, I’d be with you.

            But hey, it’s an opinion.

  5. 13

    Hi, Goran—

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this post. It’s a real eye opener. And the premise is so simple and true. I’d never really thought of it the way you explain it, though I think I think this way most of the time.

    I thought it was so important that I wrote a blog piece on it too, and of course directed my readers to you so they’ll get the full effect of the piece. (You’ve explained it so well; I just couldn’t compete.)

    I wrote a piece for my blog some time ago called “More Steak and Less Sizzle” that emphasized the importance of avoiding too much “busy-ness” on webpages that is along the same lines as your post, but not in as much detail.

    You’re absolutely correct that we should never forget that the bottom line is always getting the customer or client to that end result, that finish line, since that’s what they really came for.

    Thanks again, Goran, for a thoughtful, in-depth post.


  6. 15

    Infinite Digital

    January 14, 2016 10:46 pm

    “the ideal method to solve the time and effort wasted on commuting would be teleportation”

    Wouldn’t the ideal method to solve the problem be starting with not commuting at all? For instance telecommuting? Obviously for certain professions / jobs that’s not realistic but the ideal solution shouldn’t be so narrow, should it?

    • 16

      You could be right, as something like Oculus Rift version 6 would actually make you feel like you are there, even tho you are not really traveling. Simulating reality around you might be quicker, but you will agree that this experience has more shortcomings. You cannot simulate the smell of Pacific ocean and wind in your hair if you could just teleport to Hawaii. You cannot simulate the warmth of geysers with frosty air of Iceland.

      So even tho you are right in some general theoretical principle, I do believe that being right there, on the spot, with other people, is still better than simulating that in VR.

      • 17

        Ryan Bataillon

        January 20, 2016 4:08 pm

        A.) Wonderful article for, if anything, it has sparked a passionate conversation among the comments here.

        B.) While I agree that efficiency and effectiveness of the “tool” is of the upmost importance, I also heavily side on the team that roots for designing for a product that is fun.

        Experience design should always incorporate the element of fascination. Hence why we involve attractive visuals and exciting animations.

        In relation to this post (teleportation), consider those out there who enjoy driving a car. Who enjoy the commute and all that accompanies this daily process:
        – time to think
        – time to listen to music, or catch up on the news
        – the power and control of driving a car
        – the brisk air of the windows cracked, or wide open
        – etc.

        My opinion, as everything is developed from these, is that there is much to say and design for outside of a quick route to the end result.

  7. 18

    Wonderful article and reminder of why all designers should design. New norms are always advancing and a utopia of significant reduced digital footprint feels tantalisingly close!

    Who knows, wearable tech (for instance) might even enable me to prize my 8 year old out of his seat to come walk the dogs with me while he fends off the odd mine craft villager!

  8. 19

    This article spreds the cancer of interface design.

    Result is important, not the product – that much is true, but the conclusions are wrong. How is a more customizeable interface, more settings a nuisance? Designers now just make the easy assumption they (have to) know everything better than their users.

    Everything is as-is, you get what you get served, everything the user would do would just spoil the product. Hey, I got a hundred A-B tests/user survey/heatmap proving that the majority of users will just click THOSE buttons, that they want to list the items by THAT order – let’s just remove other options, they unnecessarily waste development time and will “confuse” users.



    Most of the users who would care can’t tailor their results anymore. Even worse, they are trained to forget they can tinker with the details. The very essence of the great PC generation of the last decades is now hushed away to “tinker” communities, and obscure developer devices. But even they, when using mainstream software, are forced to accept what they are served. I hope that the ever-increasing tension of theirs will bring down these sheepish trends.

    • 20

      You make two cardinal mistakes in assuming things.

      First, you assume that designers make assumptions (“Designers now just make the easy assumption they (have to) know everything better than their users”) – no, designers spend countless days in testing, interviewing users, making iterations, until they make a product. If you think that design process involves some people sitting in a locked room coming up with ideas and features, well, do I have news for you.

      Second, you assume that majority users want to tinker with settings (“Most of the users who would care can’t tailor their results anymore. “). The reality of situation is that – no, people do not care about settings, they just want to get stuff done. However, there is a small % of user base that would want to tinker with things, and tweak them to oblivion, but general design usually does not cater primarily for those. All software/UI’s default settings need to cater for majority of users, and then perhaps, if there is time and financial viability, designers could create tucked-away place where power users could tinker with details. The world does not (unfortunately I must say) revolve around power users and tinkerers. What is more, those users will figure out a way how to tinker, even without being “allowed” to. People will jailbreak their iPhones, they will even modify the hardware.

      • 21

        But designers do make assumptions, all the time. The only case when all that empirical data coming from tests, tools and logs can said to be correct is when considering thousands of users. Generalization is what drives the processes you describe. To single use cases, they’re nothing but well backed assumptions.

        My argument is that most of the processes you describe are not for the sake of the user, but for the designer/developer/marketer. Simplify user processes to decrease development time and test cases. Disallow customization to protect brand identity. Remove item sorting options so that sponsored content can be inserted more transparently. Most of the time it’s not about the main interface, it’s about the Settings menu. There’s almost never just one single way to “get stuff done”.

        What you do is grossly generalize people into “normal users” and “power users”. To me that sounds like like generalizing humanity to “common folks” and “smart folks”. Clunky operating systems of the late 20th century, barely hiding their inner workings behind their UI gave birth to a generation that is more aware of what they are doing when in front of a screen.
        Software should be easy and obvious to use, that’s obvious. But everyone should have the power – if they desire – to make more of it. “Power users” may find a way to hack through (noting that options do grow thinner each season) but that’s not really the point.

        To me, every software that ushers this type of generalization just radiates an ideology of glorified sameness, of not wanting more, of just simple consumption without knowing there could be something better. This is even more important now, when brands/apps want absolute, monopolistic control of their users on their given field.

        • 22

          “Simplify user processes to decrease development time and test cases. ”

          I lost you there man. It seems that you obviously do not understand the most basic principle of design – the simpler it is for the user, the MORE COMPLEX it is for designers and even more complex for engineering.

          Simple stuff is HORRIBLY complex behind the scenes.

          • 23

            Yes, if one only points out this specific misconception – abstraction is hard, most times involving heavy thought processes – then his words sound wrong.

            But aside of that, I totally understand what he’s trying to say: Don’t dumb down the interface, don’t take away the customization option for a very reduced, simplified experience.

            But maybe the approach is a wrong one – I’d rather say, the article is missing a few thoughts about: Don’t take it for granted, that every user is an idiot and thus you have to oversimplify all and anything – just like they did with Gnome 3.

            Gnome never was my favorite GUI, but with version 3, they basically went out and said: Users are idiots, who don’t know what’s right for them, are overwhelmed by anything more than the simplistic options. Thus they don’t need no advanced settings or even options to customize their interface experience (“man, you gotta be raving mad if you even slightly consider that!”). And away went customization for the ultimate goal of “simplicity”. One of the few options left for that very purpose is something similarly complex, clunky and ugly as the Windows RegEdit tool, ie. gconftool / gconf.

            cu, w0lf.

        • 24

          I think a vital point you miss is the “end result”
          Everything is made up of assumptions, people assume you want the same things, you assume that you are making sense to others. Even scientific studies are begun with assumption, ideas and theory. These help to define the terms of it’s subject matter, ultimately these are the desired end result. The end result can be one of future intent based on designers expectation, and/or the end result experienced by the users who all have different view points on any given topic. So either way you may believe you are experiencing one thing and actually receive a different end result than that anticipated, or different from the intent of the designer. The designer may not even be planning an end result which the user expects nor desires, this is then the complexities than can be positively or negatively received depending on the assumptions, expectations and experiences from both and all parties involved.

      • 25

        We pride Apple for its simplicity, yet with every upgrade, its interface, settings, feature list….etc gets larger and larger. It is not all about simplifying, sometimes to make things better you have to put a bit more complication. I do agree that getting a person from point A to point B as painlessly as possible should be the ultimate goal. Power users and regular users all want painless results, yet power users still want a bit more complexity than regular users. A very good interface allows for both, it gives you all the bells and whistles but it hides or masks most of it from basic users but allows power users to unlock them.

      • 26

        Except that the world of professional equipment and software DOES revolve around power users. Cameras, bicycles, digital tablets, performance automobiles, sporting equipment, media production software, etc. Professional and expert users of these types of products desire or need extensive customization capabilities and complex features.

      • 28

        I am no designer. I am a pure user and I feel that you are right in saying users just want to get the results they want quickly. However, there is one catch – not every users’ desired results is the ‘same’ result, even when using the same product. Customizations are important in achieving that slightly user tailored results. Clean interface is great and is desirable. But severe lack of any customization in several products these days is bit too much of ‘simplicity’. And possibly that is where some users like me and poisonborz gets frustrated with modern emphasis on extreme simplicity.

    • 29

      As someone who lived through the “great PC generation”, Im glad its gone! what a absolute waste of time it was stuffing around with poorly designed and built software and hardware, settings after settings – you’ve got to be kidding.

      The obvious truth is that the very vast majority do not care to “tinker” with their software/hardware. We’ve moved on, theres so much more in life that is accessible today and spending time bogged down in settings just so you can order something, listen to music, watch a movie, play a game.

      If you want to “tinker”, their is products for that, that you can enjoy, but don’t begrudge the rest of the world that moved forward. we discovered the world is no longer flat, and we are enjoying exploring it.

      Your argument — “My argument is that most of the processes you describe are not for the sake of the user, but for the designer/developer/marketer. “– is absolutely wrong, you make the mistake of believing that you are part of the many, but you are part of a very small and shrinking minority.

  9. 30

    Superb article.

    I work as a UX Consultant (contractor) and where ever I work I try to advocate simplicity and the premise that users are generally on a website or app to perform a task, therefore want the end result asap!

    This seems logical but there’re always obstacles: The Stakeholder who want’s to see something ‘spinning’ or the UI designer who wants to use a useless interaction because it ‘looks good’. Then you have the developer who can’t be arsed breaking conventions because its easier to stick to what they know. I’m sure we’ve all experienced these things.

    Great article – this will definitely be a reference point when trying to sell in my approach to clients.


    • 31

      Don’t let your clients get to the comments section :)

    • 32

      Excellent stuff. I also regularly have to fend off expectations from stakeholders that we can ‘EXCITE’ people to engage and spend time on our product. Like it’s a film or something. No it’s not, it’s a fucking tool.

  10. 33

    Lewis Cowles (@LewisCowles1)

    January 15, 2016 2:37 pm

    “Your product is a nuisance”

    WOW… I Get you were being emotive, but if this is really true of a product, maybe it should just die.

    My business has a core platform that we develop most of our software from, and it is geared towards this not being the case. I know, I know, this is exactly what this article is addressing; fantasises where people believe their products to be the exception; but I think that is only true for the generic, almost bland, mass-market $5 a month that plagues the industry.

    Of course people want a result and not a software, which is why the primary purpose of the software; is to support producing end-results, while removing as much of the mundane as possible. We dropped the premise that SaaS has to mean Generic, and offer customisation services atop a consistent core. We get to own any customisation we build, but charge for our expertise.

    I Think this is the future for software everywhere. We’ve seen the open-source revolution; the cloud revolution, and now it’s time for the non-generic revolution. It’s time for short sales-pitches to popular generic software to stop. Maybe then everyone won’t view you as a means to an end, but a partner, an extension of how they want to deal with problems, and you in turn will provide value…

    Maybe not everyone will want to use your product like faceache, or twatter, but your customers will be happy they don’t have the headaches everyone else has!

  11. 34

    Well after reading this article I went to the website to see what is so good about their product and design, and guest what I found?
    The mother of all loading pages, (not the main page, but when I attempted to get a closer look at their thermosat).

    Needless to say I left to come here and write this note.
    I just loss interest and got caught up in the irony

    • 35

      Luckily for me, I am just talking about their product, not their website.

      By the way, I just went to, just to check what’s happening, and the website loads instantly. Perhaps your internet connection / ISP just had a bad moment?

  12. 36

    Great article. Many of us baby boomers use very few functions on our iPhones and just want it simplified so we don’t have to ask our kids how to use a feature on it. Now if I could just figure out how to combine my 4 remotes (sound, tv, cable, DVD) into 1, I’d be thrilled!

    • 37

      Well, the solution is easy! Duct tape them together! =)

      Tho, you are right. The remotes in have gone out of control if you have a few devices. But what is even more tragic is – there is no standardisation. Every company has their own idea about basics of remotes. Perhaps the only standard thing is the rocker button for volume up/down (and similar up/down features), but beside that, man, I have seen all sorts of crazy remote layouts.

  13. 38

    Paul Gerhardt

    January 17, 2016 1:43 am

    I’ll mention that Lockitron came out with the first appless smart lock experience, not August.

    A few books document this, including “The Best Interface Is No Interface” by Golden Krishna and “Enchanted Objects” by David Rose.

    The critical thing we picked up was that our first pass at this wasn’t the best. We had initially set it up so as you walk up to the door, it unlocks for you, and same as you walk away.

    What we found was this creates a sort of mental uncertainty because the door never unlocks at the exact same spot every time – rather – one gets into this mental of loop of “Is it going to unlock now?” at 8 feet, 6 feet, 4 feet – all tolerable variations, and all consistent, but not pleasant. The magical and delightful experience we were going for is soured by an element of doubt and uncertainty. Suspense is a critical element in stage magic, but a negative trait when it comes to the reliability of personal affects.

    Our third generation lock finds a happy balance. The door detects when you come home but only unlocks for you when you initiate a simple action – a knock on the phone, a push of the keypad, or the tap of a watch notification. While we still support the old way, adoption metrics indicate the new way is vastly more popular. We call the feature Sense.

    • 39

      Hi, thanks for chiming in. Yeah, good to know that there were people before August, and just to clarify, I wan’t going for the pioneers, rather just lining examples. I gather from your comment that you work at Lockitron. Your example is an excellent one, it shows that people like to be at least a little bit in command of things, and this is something we should not forget as the future gets evermore automatic.

      Please let me ask you a question, do you think that your problem could be solved with better technology? Would people opt for full automation if the whole setup (lock + detector) worked flawlessly on an exact spot every time? Let’s say you build in ultrasound sensors (much like the ones in car bumpers), which can be really precise, and the door locks as it senses people walking away + being at say 6 feet away. Would that certainty rectify the situation?

  14. 40

    Great article Goran! So much head-nodding going on.

  15. 41

    I hope that “using the product” means to gain some end result, wouldn’t you think?

    • 42

      A lot of companies still do not have this mindset. They still build products for the sake of the product itself.

  16. 43

    This article kind of annoyed me, possibly because it’s too general, hypberbolic, and somewhat preachy.

    It’s all well and good to say:
    We will design processes, not screens.
    We will design systems, not individual pieces.
    We will design less “using,” and more getting results.

    How do you propose we ‘design processes’, WITHOUT designing the screens, assuming that the medium is digital, on a screen?

    How do you propose we ‘design systems’, WITHOUT designing the individual pieces?

    How do you design ‘more getting results’ without LOOKING at the ‘using’ process?

    It’s all very well to say, users just want things to magically happen!

    Sure they do.

    But only in very narrow fields, or very very wide budgets and fields (self driving cars, container automation, subway train scheduling) can you implement something that allows that kind of responsibility-free magic, while absolving users of responsibility.

    In many fields, we still REQUIRE the user to go through the process, interact with the product, perform myriad actions, because the onus of responsibility and decision must lie upon them. Because the interactions aren’t simple, and may cause harm. (I currently work in enterprise healthcare software.)

    For me, as a designer, what I’d love to see more of (and to work on more of) is the ‘supportive’ system. A good example of this is computer-aided Chess Grandmasters. Where the sum of the two is superior to either one alone, even if the goal is still ‘winning’.

    Computer-assisted healthcare professionals, with the goal being better patient care and outcomes. Now that’s something I want to see happen, but it’s still going to involve work on the part of the user, as well as the computer (the supportive system). And that’s the way it should be.

  17. 44

    Michael Dobekidis

    January 18, 2016 7:06 am

    Why people want to always go the easy way? Why do people want to embrace obscurity? Are we certain that this road of one-click-do-everything is really the best route?

    I tend to believe that because everything is so automated nowadays people don’t understand the technology behind it, yes it might take someone up to five minutes to figure out how something works, but this is a time spend using their brains in a constructive manner.
    Its because google search is so awesome that we don’t try to remember anything anymore we just “google it”.

    All this behind the scenes path leads to people not being able to operate anything if its is not “fool-proof” or “automated”.

    All is good with being straightforward and not overly-complicated, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone to spend 2-3 minutes to figure out how something that they use all the time actually works. And that happens when the operations of the item is closer to the “metal” or core.

    Is this a silly rant? Perhaps, time will tell.

  18. 45

    “If we go back some 15 to 20 years ago, web design was all about visual design”. I have to disagree here on this. Those were the times of exploring technologies like flash, of pushing boundaries. The cool thing about those days is that anyone could start messing with flash or html — websites like, with an open forum that everyone could visually hack, were hubs of anonymous and open source creativity. Designers actually knew how to code.

    Today you don’t have that. You exchanged the danger of the unknown with (really strict) standards, and ditched exploration in favor of “wordpress themed like websites” that all look the same. The learning curve for new technologies is higher and higher and most designers don’t know how to code anymore. Of course that there are exceptions

    IMO both ways are wrong and both could learn from one another.

    And I truly believe that because of that most apps and websites are becoming more and more indistinguishable to the consumer — they all look the same, and worst still, they mimic the same mistakes. UX should be a tool to use and consider, and not the holy grail. And designers should know the limits of the technology they have at their fingertips so they can push it even further.

  19. 46

    This is a terrific article, and I totally concur. It is massively annoying to encounter a designer who insists on inserting their ego and angst into even the smallest of designs for no other reason than a hopeless pursuit for self-worth or glory. But must point out that this shouldn’t be revelatory to anyone who fancies themselves a good designer of any product. The form vs. function debate has been around for possibly hundreds of years and it’s no great leap to apply the numerous historic cases and dialogue to modern gadget or interface design. Form is obviously quite important, especially for products that are more often seen (form) than used (function), e.g. cars, buildings, furniture, etc. No one wants to live in a design-free world. Like almost everything else in life though, it’s contextually appropriate balance that wins the day. All form and little or no function is awful. And of course, vice versa. In my humble observation, it’s the tendency in the majority of humans to be arbitrarily binary. It’s either black or white, left or right, off or on. The nuances of when and why somewhere in the middle is usually a much better solution are lost on most. Bottom line to me is if you are designing a product, become the user, the audience. Take yourself and your ego out of the equation and definitely work backwards from the end result which is as you quite convincingly and eloquently point out, that’s why your product even exists in the first place. Great stuff Goran!

  20. 47

    I feel compelled. Can’t help…myself. Must…type…

    Is it the journey or the destination?

    Is it experience of design or design of experience?

    Is it the red pill or the blue pill?

    I believe in everything you say…except for the parts I don’t.

    Users don’t want the interface to interfere with the end result. As if the end result were the only experience. Sometimes yes. But sometimes there’s fun along the way.

    I would posit that UX design that gets in the way isn’t doing its job. And UX that doesn’t add to the game isn’t doing its job either.

    • 48

      First of all I agree that if your product is an interface the less time I need to devote to it, the better. A chip implanted in my hand which facilitates payments by NFC is much easier than drawing the wallet and looking for any of the 20+ creditcard-sized plastics in there. A next version which offers a speech-controlled interface so I can go beyond the binary yes/no, present/not present is welcome, e.g. to switch channels, control volume, dim lights, close curtains.
      Whether or not a next, thought-controlled chip would be a blessing is up for debate.

      If the product is not just an interface I would like to believe that ‘handling’ the product itself can be a very joyful, like a Ferrari for getting from A to B. Or a good axe. Or cooking are a real meal – not just heating up some food. I am with Rich Goidel on that one – is it the journey or the destination?

  21. 49

    Okoro David Osato

    January 19, 2016 7:34 am

    Hi, I just want to say thanks for this post. My approach to program design has been transformed and in good time.

  22. 50

    First of all I agree that if your product is an interface the less time I need to devote to it, the better. A chip implanted in my hand which facilitates payments by NFC is much easier than drawing the wallet and looking for any of the 20+ creditcard-sized plastics in there. A next version which offers a speech-controlled interface so I can go beyond the binary yes/no, present/not present is welcome, e.g. to switch channels, control volume, dim lights, close curtains. It could include (and possibly replace..) those almost countless DASH-buttons as featured earlier on in this article.

    Whether or not a next, thought-controlled chip would be a blessing is up for debate.

    If the product is not just an interface I would like to believe that ‘handling’ the product itself can be a very joyful, like a Ferrari for getting from A to B. Or a good axe. Or really cooking a meal – not just heating up some food. I am with Rich Goidel on that one – is it the journey or the destination?

  23. 51

    I thought your article was excellent. It was clear and accurate.

    Looking at the comments we can rest assured – some people find fault like there’s a reward for it!

    Perhaps you can build an interface which allows people to make their point more professionally? The pro argue/debater? :)

    It was painful reading a lot of the comments for the results I received lol


  24. 52

    Good message, and one that puts me in mind of a design adage given to me by a mentor many years ago, which he claimed was from the early days of aviation: “Simplicate and add lightness”.

    Parenthetically, the idea that ‘people don’t want your product, they only want what it does’ has been around since the 90s if not before. Take a look at and their concept of ‘jobs-to-be-done’.

  25. 53

    Terry Schmidt

    January 19, 2016 7:31 pm

    Great insights for management consultants and others involved in delivering thought-based services. Clients don’t give a rats patootie about the methodology we consultants may delight in, they just want the result. As Harvard Business School Professor Ted Levitt said decades ago, people who buy quarter-inch drills don’t want quarter-inch drills, they want quarter inch holes.

  26. 54

    Very interesting! Thank you!

  27. 55

    Jeroen van der Putten

    January 20, 2016 4:36 pm

    Hi there,
    Awasome post, loved the article and the great discussion it invoked!

    I partially agree with your point view: Users generally just need the satisfaction of getting the job done with the least amount of effort. True, a UI needs to be designed for task efficiency, rather than getting in the way of the end result. For immersive experiences like Games the same principle applies; Its controls should not distract the user from reaching the end boss. ;-)

    People do want to make most out of their investments. I bought a Smart Phone – no iPhone – because I got a sense of the value it brings over basic GSM. Choosing a feature rich product means I have to invest time in it to benefit from it. A good design can reduce the amount of time needed to adopt but I will always have to invest time. Nobody understand the full benefits of a product before first experience, and many people are not willing to invest the time to find out during its lifetime.

    Think problem is users have different expectations and motivations when buying a product.
    Some will actually want to turn it inside out to fully benefit from it.

  28. 56

    You gotta post this to Medium

  29. 57

    Awesome post! Elegant simplicity is the key to any great design. As designers and developers, we often fall in love with how the product will work and feel, but at the end of the day, it just has to work. Of course, design is important in that it needs to be easy to use and aesthetically pleasing. It should not make me cringe when I need to get something done.

    Any recommendations for books on this design perspective?

    Thanks for putting this together!

    • 58

      Kevin W Bishop

      February 8, 2016 7:55 am

      Anything written by Don Norman.

      • 59

        Kevin W Bishop

        February 8, 2016 8:08 am

        By which I mean he always writes and talks about uncomplicating things, not making the complex simple. Complexity is a part of everyday life. To simply simplify is to sacrifice and deny, demean or diminish the richness of life as we have come to know it; life as we have come to understand it in all its intricacies.

        When friends sit on each
        others’ couches, do they
        Laugh at the same jokes?

        Copyright Kevin W Bishop

  30. 60

    …this article could use a little of practicing what it preaches ;)

    I skipped over a bunch of examples once I’d gotten the gist of it, because I didn’t want to read a long article, I just wanted the information in it.

    Also, I didn’t want to have to scroll down past all the comments to leave a comment myself, I just wanted to leave a comment.

    Nice distinction that I will remember, but could have been presented more clearly.

  31. 61

    Harry van der veen

    February 7, 2016 7:48 pm

    This is seriously one of the best posts that I have read recently.

    Talking about usability. It is annoying to scroll through all the comments, just to leave a comment.

  32. 62

    Kevin W Bishop

    February 8, 2016 7:52 am

    Your premise, or thesis, is sound (if I’ve identified it correctly): “The main reason why some products are great is that they take the load off of users and assist them in making decisions.”

    Unfortunately, your examples and anecdotes don’t hold water. Responses to comments also miss the mark at times. Responses may also miss the entire point, but we live and learn.

    But rather than belabor it I’d like to commend you for writing a piece that generated so much response. It’s always a good thing for us to discuss issues central to our profession: ‘What makes for good design?’

    I’d like to end be amending your predictive bullet points.

    1. One day, we will design experiences, not a/v or haptic or pseudo-psychological interactions.
    – which also means we will design for results; not coerced or pre-conceived or addictive results, but for outcomes that truly benefit both the person we serve in our designs as well as the service or product our designs are meant to deliver meaningful, mutual value.

    Is that too much to ask?
    I don’t think so.

    -Kevin W Bishop


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