November 22, 2015
Why bad design isn't intentional
If you've ever looked for Chow Mien noodles in the grocery store, and figured that they should be with the noodles, no, they're not. There with the Chinese Food. Of course, once you've gone to the grocery store several times, this makes perfect sense. But for someone who is trying to use a design in what they consider a logical way, this looks like evil design, or just bad design. Are they trying to hide Chow Mien noodles from me? Are they assuming that I know enough about foreign cuisine to determine the country of its historical origin? To me, they're noodles.
I'm a Graphic Designer and I see bad design all of the time. And I always say, "I'm sure they mean well", even if the design looks like it was intentionally designed to frustrate its users.
As of this writing (November 2015) I'm working on trying to figure out the redesign of Google+, which of course is a tangle. And even more so to the people who have been using it for years, with the original interface. But I don't imagine the designers at Google+ laughing hysterically, and wringing their hands, saying stuff like, "This will drive them crazy!" or "They'll never figure this out! Ha ha ha ha!"
Of course, we get used to using a bad design. Have you ever looked at the freeway signs in Los Angeles? When you first see them, you imagine that they're actually intentionally trying to confuse you. Once you've learned them, they're easy. People adapt quickly to bad design. If there were a sign on a freeway that said, "to Cincinnati" and it really meant "to Pasadena", it really wouldn't bother most people who would learn what it really meant after a time, and they would wonder why newcomers were so stupid. Can't they read the sign? Strange, but true.
So people who have been using a badly-designed interface for a long time just stop seeing how bad it is. If an arrow points to the left, and they know from experience that it's supposed to point to the right, they just do it. As a designer, this stuff fascinates me.
Good design is rare. And it's done by the same people who create bad design, with the best intentions. I'm not optimistic enough to believe that there are designers who are so good that they can actually foresee how users will misunderstand their design, and do it intentionally. They mean well.
Posted by Brad Hall