Uncivilized Design

Kathy Sierra recently declared: we can’t leave innovation up to our users. Amen. A while back, I asked if innovative design can come from users.
Interaction design is dominated by the user today. And rightly so in some ways. It’s far easier to leverage some knowledge or conventions they already know. For example, everyone knows what tabs are for. If the user approaches an interface for hte first time and sees tabs, they’ll know exactly what to do. Easy win.
For me the really exciting stuff doesn’t happen when we take agreed-upon conventions off the shelf and implement them. Customs and conventions are borne out of seeds of innovation that originated somewhere. As Kathy astutely points out, “the world never needed GUI’s.”
User-centered design is implicity conservative. It seeks to leverage the already understood cultures and norms. Most designers work within design civilizaiton. Where norms and customs and implicit social contracts pervade. Civilization is necessary because it allows us to thrive and function, but it is inherently predictable. Creativity exists, but it exists within civilization.
For me, the real excitement and satisfaction around design comes from introducing something that is outside the customs and norms and seeing it embraced. Something plucked from less-ventured territory. We’ll typically see resistence to this approach. But if and when something unique is embraced, it’s incredibly gratifying. It’s magnified by the knowledge that you, as a designer, were somehow able to bypass common customs and conventional thinking and appeal to something very basic and fundamental to how people think and feel. There are few things more difficult to attain, and more gratifying than that achievement.

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