Thursday, January 30, 2014

Design is not about democracy; design is about quality. (Hartmut Esslinger)

Hartmut Esslinger is a German/American industrial designer who did some important work for Apple back in the ‘80s, including designing the Apple IIc.

I was hoping this quote of his was about the design-by-committee approach.  Instead, it’s really more about the “genius  designer.”  This is a design style that was made famous at Apple, by people like Hartmut, Jonathan Ive, and Jerry Manock.  It basically posits that really brilliant designers design really brilliant products.  What some people take away from this – unfortunately – is that all the user-centered design stuff is not always absolutely necessary, and might be more for the hoi polloi.

Now, I have no beef with the concept as is.  Apple has some incredible designers and has designed some incredible stuff.

Here’s what I worry about though …  What about the rest of us?  I’m afraid I haven’t worked with a lot of Hartmuts in my career.  Now, I have worked with a ton of really excellent designers.  But none of them ever seemed to want to work “without a net” in this way.  In fact, it always struck me that the better they were, the more interested they were in getting feedback, at getting their stuff into the lab.

It was the other ones that I always worried about.  They always seemed to shy away from having real users do real tasks using their designs.  Now, here’s the great irony …  Some of these guys believed quite strongly in the genius designer theory.   Go figure. 

So, if you’re in the same league as Hartmut and Jonathan and the rest of the ├╝bermenschen, go for it!  If not, though, run your stuff by some users, okay?

Oh, designing by committee?  I see it all the time.  It’s a really bad idea.

Herr Hartmut himself