Designing products that people like

Jamie has just written an excellent piece over at the BBC’s Radio Labs blog about his recent work on the design of the /programmes website. Jamie explains his analysis of existing ‘competitors’ using Polar Maps and Topography.

It reminded me of an article about the design of the Xbox 360 who also used Polar Maps to help understand what people wanted and to then align the designers and Microsoft Execs.

Patterns arose in the responses. People wanted a softer look than the original console. They wanted Microsoft to tone down the logo. They loved the use of chrome as an accent color.

At the same time, the team solicited the opinions of Microsoft executives. Jonathan Hayes, the 37-year-old design director for the Xbox platform, didn’t show them actual models for fear that each executive would pick one to champion. Instead, he asked them to consider four themes: mild, wild, architectural and organic.

The original Xbox was certainly on the wild end of the spectrum. And, with its complex geometry and lines, it was architectural as well. Should its successor have the same look?

The executives talked about vehicles as a point of comparison. A Hummer had the same wild, architectural sense as the Xbox. On the mild, organic end was the Porsche 911, which had a well-evolved and distilled feel. That’s the look the group eventually settled on.

Apple Computer’s iPod is mild, executives said. Mild will still look fresh five years from now. Wild and aggressive will seem dated.

As I’ve said before I don’t believe that asking people what they want works. Polar maps do. They help understand what our users’ expectations are and that means we can design products that fit our users mental model – it helps us design intuitive products.

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