February 26, 2010
Ron George, a friendly ex-Microsoft Designer who now owns his own company, phoned in to say: get off my lawn, hippie!
Cupertino is laughing at you … right about ……….. now.
Now lets talk, Mr. Redmond, man to man. I’ve wanted to talk for so long. But you never returned my calls. I thought we had something real? Can we still be friends? (not after this message! read on!)
Synthetic Emotion Sucks. Hard. Microsoft design tends to get the details right, but the result reeks (to me, at least) of beauracracy. Its about as sterile as a hospital. When the design is supposed to convey ‘fun’ or other emotions, its about as much fun as the garish coloured doodads that pass for middle school architecture. You can’t fake it. If you ain’t feelin it, you just can’t fake it. IMO. YMMV. But AFACT, it hasn’t. hee hee.
Is Design Art? Lets talk architecture. Is good architecture art? If it is, then good design (esp desktop design) is art. If its not, then good design is not art. I really don’t care which way you go. It doesn’t matter to me whether design is art or not. Either way, interfacactionperience design is in the same bucket as architecture. Segue to… stealing dialogue from architects. WE LIVE IN THIS SHIT. Office-istas live in their computers more than they live in the building in which the computer is housed.
When something is your environment, how it shapes you as a person really matters.
You Cannot Rigorously Prove Your Way to Wisdom Many have tried, all have failed (AFAICT). We desperately need wisdom, because a lot of people’s souls are in our hands. We are shaping human beings by the boxes they sit in / look at. Architects have talked about this for years. We have a moral responsibility for asking ourselves not just ‘how do i increase productivity’, ‘how do i increase consumption’, ‘how do i sell more bigmacs’, ‘how do i make X easier’ … but to look deep in our hearts and learn our own values. And, if we’re especially big-hearted, to do ethnography and find out what’s in other people’s hearts. And protect those things. Unless the core of the human spirit is to be a tool, Microsoft fails abjectly at protecting those things. Synthetic emotion doesn’t past muster for me. I’m lovin’ it™.
And besides all That, MS design sucks anway. Because I can smell the stale rabbit trails. The details are honed to a fit-to-ship polish (I desperately wish we could say that…), and I’ve read some of the concepts and papers. They’re smart. They’re big abstract powerful ideas. And the punchline? the result typically falls flat. Somewhere in the chasm between abstract and details, Microsoft design tends to miss the big picture.
Specs are just that way. But don’t feel bad, most rigorous spec-oriented design processes fall into this chasm. Its more like a canyon. The canyon of spec inertia. Here’s the problem: the spec itself quickly becomes a costly item. The details of the spec are word-long enough and hard enough that you are rapidly locked into ideas you aren’t even aware you’re locked into. Instead of asking a lot of whys and whos and whats, you end up asking a lot of hows. How do we make this work given this? How do we get this goal? And its very very very very hard to push back the hows and get back to whys when things fail. So you build more hows to answer your initial round of hows. And then somebody pulls out a Howitzer.
Sparse Design Processes Leave The Basic Important Questions Visible Soon the hows are flying so thick you can’t see your users anymore, you can’t see their basic goals, you can’t reach minimalism anymore, and most importantly YOU CANNOT BALANCE. You cannot make reasonable tradeoffs because all hows look about the same size. Problem is design is all about tradeoffs and balance. What is the primitive question? You must know. Rarely oh so rarely can you have your cake and eat it too. If you don’t understand what is important to you, and what is important to your users, you drop the big picture in a growing puddle of rigor. And important is usually simple. Dead, dead simple. It takes some waiting to see, but its never a big complicated monster. What is the heart of my design? What is the still silent voice?
Iterate Iterate Iterate! The HEART OF ELEGANT DESIGN PROCESS lies close to messy, fun, naive, simplistic, iteration that has smart, grounded, experienced, willing-to-admit-wrong people in it. Don’t build rigid structures, throw up waves of leaves and dance in them! Be flexible! Be excellent! Let the waves of leaves rain around your brain, throw them at each-other. Argue them, play with them. You will find deeper gems. The alternative is all arguespeak. Its all minutia and no perspective. Its all grind grind grind. Releases don’t make anything better, they just make things different. ugh! LIFE IS TO SHORT TO DESIGN IN SUCH JOYLESS TROLL-FASHION.
And the results suck, anyway. See many microsoft products for details. So sure, its never awful. Mediocre at best, mediocre at worst is hardly what I want on my gravestone.
And finally, semper fi you tough mother fucker you. You have swaggered through a pile of shit at Microsoft, and that makes you a man. I am a total pussy (seriously, I am). But you? You had the balls to say big things on the internet!
And finally finally, the tricksiest trick is that this message was a red herring. I got totally lost in detail. Ah irony. I actually totally agree with you: we should argue shit into the ground and hold ourselves to high standards. Not kidding. After all that, I agree. We should test, stomp, modify and destroy.
We just need to do this on a high enough level FIRST so the next bits matter, and only then work to the lower levels, and the lower levels, and the lower levels, and the lower leves. And then take what we learned at the low levels, and feed them back on the high levels, make changes, pass down. LIKE OUR BRAINS. OMG. Rinse, repeat. Kisses.
These cheap shots brought to you by our esteemed sponsoroos, Canonical & Google. If you liked this message, go ahead and click on a few ads next time you search! Go for it. I know I know, you’re not the type, but just give it a try. Feels good to spend somebody else’s money, no? Thought so. Don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul.