Excerpt from a letter to Don Norman: “One of your partner’s heuristics is aesthetic and minimalist design. What […]

Excerpt from a letter to Don Norman:

“One of your partner’s heuristics is aesthetic and minimalist design. What a hard one to talk about!

The key I think is beauty vs. fashion. Fashion is flashy. Beauty is simply well designed. What is well designed?

A well designed product meets the needs of use while bringing a sense of satisfaction through use. Line is articulated, but not pushy, shapes are ergonomic (Herman Miller Aeron chairs, or his Red Line), colors appropriate and natural. Pleasure is experienced at first contact in the showroom, and increases rather than decreases through daily companionship. (the canon s100 is such a tool)

The well-designed product is rarely the most striking on the shelf; it should never be judged against the alternatives upon first blush but always slept on (and with, if possible– I mean this in a non-sexual but again, in a companionable way).

The well designed product’s interface is understandable, but not utterly revealed; as one uses the well designed object it continues to reveal its fitness to the task. You discover advanced features as you need them; you do not wade through them to get to what you need everyday.

The well designed product knows its place in the world and fits with other products; flip through an Ikea catalog to see some possibilities (Ikea products are often well designed by not always well executed.) The canon s100 slides in the front pocket of a pair of jeans; the rolling suitcase slides under the seat in front of you; the Aeron seats comfortably the 300 pound and the 125 pound board member. The palm fits the palm.

Personally I do not consider the m-series palm beautiful– I don’t think they know what they are doing. The flip on the bottom is as full of false purpose as fins on a thunderbird. I consider the palm 5 the most beautiful. Slim and sharp as a little black book (and reminiscent of the prowess that comes with one), it slides in a dozen different pockets. It was the first rechargeable palm (thus conscious of the environment it has responsibility to) and it was designed to be ambidextrous; it’s a charmer.

I also don’t think that the imac’s truly beautiful; merely inventive. The shape of a user’s body when interacting with them tells most of the story. How can the product be beautiful when it makes the user ugly?

Jakob Nielsen’s Designing Web Usability is a stunningly designed book; revealed by the audience it garnered him. But the mistake would be to assume it was well designed because it was — well designed. Homepage Usability is a pretty shell and as such, a failure. Too heavy to read comfortably, too flashy for its subject; it’s a whitepaper in a promdress.
The content and design of Designing Web Usability were in perfect unity. Beauty resulted.”


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  1. 1
    Lyle Kantrovich


    Was this a letter you wrote to Don, or what? Was it all from the letter, or was some of it Don’s response? I just wasn’t clear on that point. Definitely well written and good points.

  2. 3

    could any of you possibly give a specific example of a ”well-designed” object (advertisement, product, building etc) and why that specific thing is well-designed? thanks.

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