Today the need to look different and be different all the time has become more like a necessity for social acceptance, be at work or personal. We want to be seen as innovators and be applauded all the time. The subtle societal notion of ‘if you’re not doing anything different, is equivalent to you’re not doing anything valuable’ is actually taken very seriously today. But at what point does one decide what is actually and truly different and what is valuable? Because sometimes you could be doing something that’s different but it turns out that it’s not valuable.
The clear answer lies in the adoption curve of the eventual users of such the product or service. Because technology changes quickly compared to the peoples’ adaptation habits and learning curve, which is comparatively slower. Because as humans we have over the years learnt and formed a collective pattern of behaving in a similar fashion towards some of the most generic situations. And our reactions to those are more or less same if not drastically different.
Anything we design is eventually doing either of the two things – displacing the old user behaviour pattern or simply extending them.
Changing the collective user behaviour pattern is nothing short of what I would call as a Digital Evolution today.
User Behaviour Pattern is not just limited to Humans but animals as well have an accumulated and evolved learnt behaviour over generations that make them behave in a collective way. I recently read a case study about “Mountain lions fear humans, flee when they hear our voices”. It reveals how human behaviour as a predator to the felines – which is a predator to other animals – has eventually caused these species to develop a type of a fear based learning mechanism to protect themselves from humans.
Designers are often reluctant to take advantage of the already existing conventions that have been followed and over the period and which has been subconsciously well learnt by the users.
But the designers get tempted to try and reinvent the wheel because they feel that they always need to do something new and different that has not been done before. While that’s a good thought to start at but as designers there are certain start points and basics that need to be adhered to. Like you clearly need to define the learning curve vs. the value you are trying to replace of the already existing solution or convention.
How to make the users learning curve as minimal as possible and yet achieving the eventual product and business goal is something that a designer must always strive to do.
So what needs to be kept in mind is to ask yourself that do I really need to reinvent the wheel or revise it?
A quick and literal litmus test here is that all automobile companies use the same shape of wheels, which were invented way back in circa 3,500 B.C. They have all the resources and funds to make a square wheel, a trapezium shaped wheel and so on.
Point is they don’t shy from using existing conventions and technology because by leveraging the existing they make their own innovative part of the product better. And that’s what the people need -a better version of anything existing. Nature adapts and evolves and so do we as humans. We build on the existing to make the present much more delightful.
A Quick example would be corporate parks having unnecessary complicated design for the most simple of the things. Eg: Elevator Call buttons
The button you see here is the easiest way to understand a elevator call button without any ambiguity.
Now most of the corporate park utility designs are complicated for example the images of buttons below.
Conventions which have been used and already learnt by the users is a great way to kickstart design thinking process as it puts less cognitive load on their minds and also makes them feel less dumb. We have to as designers or utilities keep in mind that if the user is finding it difficult to use the service or object designed its our fault and not the users.
Revising or enhancing user behaviour is a better option than completely reinventing because unless it really displaces the value of what is already existing its adaptability and scalability is highly questionable.
Hence keeping things reasonably simple is more important than making them functionally fancy and ambiguous.