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November 06, 2003

"Discoverability" for home and home page

UI Web has a great article on "the myth of discoverability," a term that is used broadly in UI circles to refer to, as author Scott Berkun writes, "the ability for a user of a design to locate something that they need, in order to complete a certain task." I want to spend more time reading the article than this particularly crazy day affords me, but even a cursory read reveals a wealth of distilled wisdom. Every designer and marketer should read this, often. But it got me thinking about design in the broadest sense of the word...

Having worked in the high church of graphic design (glory be to the Walter and to the Klamath. amen), I've had a fair amount of exposure to these topics in terms of web design. And I always have an opinion on web and software UI (usually that it sucks). A poorly designed product makes me instantly, irrationally angry (yes, shades of my Dad). Conversely, few things bring me a greater sense of peace in daily life than interactions with objects and experiences that unfold like you expect them to--it's silly, but it there is a kind of everyday zen in this. I can't be alone--witness the explosion of better-designed mousetraps in everything from computers to kitchenware.

I like that the article brings in examples like the grocery store environment, which is basically a superset of product packaging. Information architecture on packaging is one of the toughest design jobs out there, because marketers want to say everything. The profusion of text and visual cues almost always gets in the way of discvoerability. Marketers, please listen to designers on this point.

But enough about marketing-- this is about me! Having just tried to outfit a house in a way that is as usable to guests (like Paulette, if she wants to come cook, say, meatballs any time soon) as it is to we who live there, I can attest that discoverability is something with immense practical value. If hospitality is about making guests feel at home, it enters the realm of "customer-first design." Thus discoverability is a key to hospitality, for the sake of the host and the guest. If a guest needs a tissue, a roasting pan, an extra towel or (heaven forfend) a plunger, how much happier is everyone if they can find it easily and quickly on their own.

The real question becomes, is their an unconscious architecture of home storage and presentation that is shared enough that friends can, as it were, decode on the fly? That's the question I'm going to start asking this weekend in the kitchen of casa nonfamous--where, truth be told, not even David and I can navigate easily.

When it comes to home, is there truly a place for everything, and everything in its place?

(UIweb citation courtesy of Tomalak's Realm.)

Posted by jay at November 6, 2003 11:57 AM | TrackBack
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Comments

A great article, and I wish more UI designers would take heed.

Especially in the computing domain, I'm really starting to come around to the idea that in design choice (and its effect, flexibility) is often a bad idea. I loved this quote from the article: "eliminating stupid, unnecessary or infrequent choices from the list of decisions people need to make, is almost always a good thing". Amen to that! By limiting flexibility by making good choices for the user we are adding value, not decreasing it.

A metaphor helps illustrate this: if you go to a fancy restaurant and ask for a salad, they just bring you a damn fine salad. You know you're gonna like it (and probably be charged $10 for it, but that's not the point). But if you order a salad at Red Robin, you'll get asked: Caesar, house, green or Greek? What kind of dressing? Low-fat or regular? Croutons or bacon bits? Entree or appetizer size? Bread with that?

Unlike the fancy restaurant whose chef has carefully considered what options would lead to the most pleasing salad, Red Robin has abdicated responsibility for that decision and left that burden to the consumer. But if you've ever compared the salad at Red Robin to what you'd get at the Dahlia Lounge, you'd realise that added choice doesn't mean added value.

Posted by: david on November 6, 2003 12:50 PM

David, interesting point about the salad choices in a restaurant (I would take up the conversation where culinary matters are finally discussed, wouldn't I?). It makes total sense. And, it also kind of fits (although at first I was thinking not so much) with what Tom Colicchio has been doing at his restaurant Craft in New York, where basically you build your own meal, choosing the meat, the preparation, condiments, and accompaniments, though with guidance from the staff. It's aimed, however, at an audience that is sophisticated enough about food that Colicchio assumes they are capable of choosing wisely (otherwise why would they return to pay top dollar for a meal they find disappointing), but that also knows enough to generally be daunted by being given such choices.

Posted by: paulette on November 6, 2003 01:27 PM
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