I’ve seen this video pop up a few times on my Twitter stream recently; mostly accompanied by a comment like this:
I lost count of how many times I threw up during this video. Is this a joke? A joke video? - @goodonpaper
At the time of writing the original YouTube post has 177 dislikes and 16 likes. It’s quite unusual for this type of video to provoke such a response that 177 people could be bothered to click the dislike button - that sort of reaction is usually reserved for ladies pushing cats into bins.
So what makes this video so bad? Firstly, the similarities in design between HP’s new product and the well established MacBook range from Apple is enough to get up most people’s noses. But more than that I think it’s the language in which the designers in the video describe their product. Emphasis on ‘their’.
"Once you get past that initial look and feel of the product, which is gorgeous, there is a deeper level of design that is part of the discovery process." - Kevin Massaro - Manager, Industrial Design
"… we integrated a volume wheel that has what I call ‘interaction gravity’. That interaction gravity is what pulls people into the product to interact with it." - Kevin Massaro - Manager, Industrial Design
It’s the sort of over the top descriptive language that has people reaching for the sick bucket. It also exacerbates the public perception of the design industry as a group of elitist, waffling snobs who pluck adjectives from thin air to try and convince us that we need their products in our lives.
In the video the design team refers to the end user on a number of occasions but I can’t help but get the feeling that they themselves were the end user reference point throughout the process.
It’s a familiar trap - you’re so happy with your own work that you lose sight of the bigger picture and you take decisions on behalf of the end user. This is all part of a designer’s job of course but there is a balance to be found. When working in a design bubble it’s almost impossible to take feedback or criticism in any form and the end result is usually a product that you love but no one else does.
From a web design point of view, the way to avoid the design bubble is to involve your end users throughout the process. When you only ask questions of yourself it’s easy to come up with all the right answers. But when you have the real people who are using your product posing difficult questions, then you are really out of your comfort zone. Working with your users in this way also helps you to stay grounded and avoid falling in love with your projects - I’d be surprised to ever hear a UX designer describe their work as gorgeous.
User centred design and UX design are familiar principles in modern web design but I wonder if these practices are as common in other design disciplines. Perhaps the cost of iteration is too high in product design or the design process is more evolutionary based on previous models of the same product.
I would love to hear from some product designers about their approach to projects and how it compares to the web design process that I’m familiar with. Leave a comment?