MB Circus: Designing for Speed, Simplicity Armed with ‘Lots of Little Ideas’

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The first two speakers in yesterday’s Mediabistro Circus session on User Experience Design came armed with formidable lists. For Google’s Jon Wiley (pictured above, at left), it was “Ten principles that contribute to a Googley user experience,” while Shiv Singh (at right), director of strategic initiatives at Avenue A | Razorfish, offered up a compact set of five trends that are now profoundly impacting how and for whom designers work. When overlaid, the enumerated ideas described an increasingly fragmented yet community-hungry global world of web users that crave simplicity, power, beauty, and that all-important human touch.

Wiley began with a lesson in the history of user design — the opposite placement of the propeller and throttle on two WW2 bomber planes, akin to varying by car model the position of the gas pedal and brake — and then discussed how Google’s design team embodies the company’s mantra: “focus on the user and all else will follow.” While Google conducts oodles of field studies and user lab testing, Wiley also emphasized how “understanding the user experience can lend a lot of value early in the [development] process,” when the possible design solutions are plentiful and the cost of changing one’s mind is still blissfully low.

Google’s design principles can be boiled down to the companywide goal of creating designs that are useful, fast, simple, engaging, innovative, universal, profitable, beautiful, trustworthy, and personable. Elaborating on the third point, Wiley noted that striving for simplicity means more than “putting a simple white box on a page,” but also streamlining users’ tasks, whether finding information or sending an e-mail. On the topic of speed, which Wiley described as “a huge competitive advantage for [Google],” he noted the power of perception. “It’s entirely possible to improve users experience by improving perceived speed,” as anyone who was lucky enough to own a Power Wheels as a child can attest.

Avenue A | Razorfish’s Singh took a broader view, providing the audience with big ideas focused on the ascendency of many little ones. He first highlighted the loss of the destination website in a world where users “are using traditional detination websites as content sources…to snack on,” taking bits and pieces of sites (e.g., text, images, videos) back to their own turf (e.g., blogs, social media sites).

The remainder of his talk was also based upon this loss of the ideal website or ur-user — or even the user as a singular noun. “We do not act as individual isolated users anymore,” said Singh. “We act as groups of people heavily influenced by each other.” He advised designers to think in terms of people or communities who are increasingly driven by incremental little ideas in place of one world-changing big one. But as the world of design becomes more fragmented, globalization is ushering in a kind of uniformity. Singh demonstrated this by showing the recently redesigned New York Times website, which was soon imitated by two Indian newspapers. Concluded Singh, “With globalization comes this weird type of standardization as we borrow and learn from each other.”