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Rocket Matter Design Week: The Design of Everyday Things

As part of Rocket Matter’s attendance of SXSW, this week we’ll focus on the little-understood and under-appreciated role of design in software.

Good software design is a lot more than pretty window dressing:  it has to inform every aspect of software development. A great interface inspires and sometime shocks:  consider the first iMac without a floppy drive (*gasp*) or the iPhone without (*sputter,wheeze*) a replaceable battery.

When we caught our first glimpse of specialized legal practice management and time and billing software, we were surprised at the counter-intuitive and cumbersome nature of the applications. Our competition appeared bloated with years of unfettered feature additions.  Design was clearly an afterthought in the development process.

Coming up with a simple, intuitive design may seem simple to the outsider’s perspective, but looks can be deceiving.  It may seem paradoxical, but achieving simplicity is difficult. Each button, link, widget, and workflow in Rocket Matter takes a lot more thought that you might realize.

Design must take into consideration the human brain, and in addition to artistic ability, relies on disciplines as diverse as cognitive psychology and architecture.  As an introduction to the ideas of design and psychology, the 1980’s classic The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman is a great place to start.

From the Amazon.com description:

?? Norman’s thesis is that when designers fail to understand the processes by which devices work, they create unworkable technology. Director of the Institute for Cognitive Sciences at University of California, San Diego, the author examines the psychological processes needed in operating and comprehending devices. Examples include doors you don’t know whether to push or pull and VCRs you can’t figure out how to program.

The Design of Everyday Things is a great read for anyone – some of the idiotic design decisions described will have you laughing.  And you don’t have to be a professional designer to draw life lessons from the book.  Anyone who must interface with others (virtually anyone) can apply some of the principals to work and personal experience.

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