As designers we can always be distracted by the newest, coolest designs and interactions. In fact, one of the first lessons we learn when we start becoming designers is that there should always be some sort of function with our form. It’s not just about creating cool interactions, it’s about create appropriate interactions for the problems we are trying to solve. Within the past couple of years, with the release of the tablet, we have seen the influx of interaction for interactions sake, and it is taking all of our power not to fall back into the trap of designing cool things just to be cool. At a recent lecture I attended regarding how the iPad and similar devices are changing magazine publishing, I witnessed this situation in full effect. Magazines design really cool interactions for their tablet applications, but one has to question what is the core experience that they are providing with magazine interaction on these devices?
Not defining these core experiences is what, I believe, is causing the publishing industry’s demise. Instead of thinking about how users experience the content on a non-device level and bringing that to their applications, they are thinking about how users physically engage with magazines and how to replicate that in their applications. This is all well and good, but eventually the “coolness” becomes boring, and without a core experience at the base, the application becomes uninteresting. Thus the problem with not having defined the core experiences for the user is that the thing you are designing, whether a desktop app, mobile app, website, etc… has no real value to people. You are not providing value.
I think it’s obvious that in order to solve this problem of not providing value to our users through our designs we need to take a step back from the interaction and define the experience first. This is UX 101, right? If we aren’t defining the experience, what we want our users to be feeling, how their behaviors reflect needs, goals and tasks, etc then we aren’t really creating an experience at all. By just defining new and interesting interactions without thinking through the experience you aren’t really designing, you are just copying real life detailed interactions into the virtual world. Now, don’t get me wrong, these interactions are extremely important. They are, however, only interactions until they are coupled with the overarching meaning.
Thus, our UX model still holds true even after all this time. In order to provide value… real value, we need to create an experience before we layer interactions on top of it. This is not something that I see most people doing when assembling their new tablet applications, for example. Instead they are more concerned with all the new interactions that they can provide users through this new medium. However, these interactions will become stale when the next big thing hits. By creating and understanding the experience that the application is trying to provide, we are creating real value for our users. The outcome of doing this are applications, websites and products that are useful and have a much longer lifespan because they provide value to the users they were designed for. So, all you designers out there, look to the experience first, then the medium you are designing in. And all you magazine application designers, take a step back and ask yourself what you are really designing. Trust me, you product will be much more kick ass for it.
Imagine my delight when only hours after I drafted this post, Jeffery Zeldman highlighted a great, similar (but better written) post about The Problem with Magazine Apps.