If I had to point to one discipline that played the largest part in my thinking over the last year it would be design. I’ve mentioned in this space before that I’m amazed that in the past I spent so little time considering something that played such a large part in everyone’s life. Design has come to me as a way to tie together many of the loose ends in my thinking. It’s a multi-faceted discipline that is at its essence about solving problems in the most effective way possible.
The problem is that it’s not an easily accessible discipline. As I mentioned, I really gave design little thought until I came to an advertising agency with a serious focus on design (and lots of very smart designers). Before that I think design to me was more of a added benefit, even a waste. I felt like design was all about trying to make things look good so other people would think you’re cooler. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I assume, though, that if I had that perception that there are probably others who feel the same way. That’s why when I run across those stories/articles that put design into terms that everyone can understand I like to share them.
The new Target pill bottle is a great example of that. Everyone knows what a pill bottle looks like. We’ve all held one and tried to read its instructions. When New York magazine told the story of the new bottle and the shortcomings of the old amber cylinders it put design into simple terms.
The iPod is widely recognized and heralded for its extraordinary design. Most of us have one or at least have played with one. We know how nice it looks and feels in the hand and it’s clean, white on white palatte has made it’s way into almost every product category. But what about the iPods problems? The short battery life has been well documented. As has just how easily the screen on the Nano scratches. What about the fact that you can’t get your music onto a friend’s computer easily?
The point is that design is about far more than just looks: it’s about the holistic product.
Over at Mobile Community Design they’ve ripped apart the iPod and all it’s design flaws. From the hierarchy of the navigation to the fact that the wheel provides no feedback letting you where you are in a long list. The point of the article is not to say that the iPod sucks, just that it could be better. Which brings me to my final point: The most important part of design (arguably) is that everything can be improved a little bit more. No design is ever perfect. Nothing is ever finished.
Updated (1/6/05): Anil Dash posted his dos and don’ts for beating the iPod in which he looks into some of the iPod/iTunes design flaws.