Design for “expected convenience”

Had a great brainstorming breakfast session with a couple friends starting up a new digital product. During the convo, the profound yet alarmingly obvious concept of designing for “expected convenience” emerged (okay, I think I coined it. Hey if Dan Saffer can invent “topless meetings”, I’m gonna claim this one! :-)

The idea is quite basic: instead of killing yourself desperately clawing your way to get the “next iPod”– a massive gamechanger and cultural and economic powerhouse–focus on modest, simple targeted improvements to your product, and thus the overall user experience, leading to delight and satisfaction. Many of these things are those Aha! moments of user’s gratitude–where the user says “thank you”, literally! Why? because someone thought about the small things–

  • The iPhone has the ring silencer on the outside as a physical switch, not a digital control lost in the menus.
  • Firefox download window has an icon to view the file in the Finder
  • Photoshop palettes snap and can be re-combined in infinite ways
  • Google Mail shows a link to view your just sent message immediately after sending it to calm those freakouts of a bad email
  • Mac OS prompts you if your files are too large to transfer to a drive, before copying begins

The funny thing is the concept arose from talking about a totally non-digital item: wheels on luggage. It’s simply expected fact that most pieces of luggage have wheels on them but it’s a relatively recent invention that has become simply expected convenience. Small shift in insight and change that yields great ease/satisfaction for the user. And of course your user base will love you for it, because they’re clever, smart, well-thought out, and… well, convenient. This gets your user to think “how did I live without this” yet it’s so effortless, transparent, intuitive, and just blends into their tasks/activities flow.

1 comment

  • Ahh yes, “How do I know what I need if I don’t know I need it?” I don’t think people ever really knew that they needed luggage with wheels. There has always been carts with wheels to carry luggage. I think the shift occurred when some product designer said, “Forget the carts! I want my own wheels!” before everyone realized that they needed their own wheels too.

    I think this is true of a lot of products and innovative design. For example, nobody knew they needed Tivo for the longest time (remember using VHS tapes to record Dukes of Hazard?), and now its becoming a standard feature of all cable tv services.

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