Why Design is Hard

Okay, this has been bugging me forever. I've been trying to figure out why entering a calendar event on my smartphone or Google calendar or Outlook feels so…annoying?..

Now back to calendars. When I think of months, I reflexively picture a circle, with January 1st at the top and June at the bottom. That uses the spatial processing part of my brain. When I think of a day within a month, I picture a wall calendar grid with four horizontal weeks. That's a different spatial model. When I think of the time of day, I think of a round clock with two complete cycles for AM and PM. My smartphone unhelpfully adds another spatial model by making me enter times in a sort of slot machine interface with rolling windows, which causes me to imagine a tire shape, with the tire heading toward me. Meanwhile, the other options I need to click are spread around the screen and require a mental scavenger hunt, which is another spatial task. 

Add to this spatial overload that my calendar likes to present itself sometimes in a month format, and other times by week. Worse yet, on some of my calendar interfaces the months scroll in a left-right orientation, and on other interfaces the months scroll up-down.

When I read Scott Adams' post about his frustration with the Google and Outlook calendar interfaces and got to the excerpt I've shared above, what struck me was that his arguments helped explain perfectly why designing anything is so hard.  I don't think I could picture the items that Adams describes any differently than he does – to me a month is a block, not a circle and every reference to time (minute, hour, day) looks like a line, i.e. a timeline.  Now take the two of us and multiply by the millions of people who use those calendars and you can understand why it would be near impossible to design something that is comfortable for everyone to use.

Having spent years in direct marketing, print publishing, online publishing and nonprofit management I've had to spend a lot of time thinking about design and usability.  I'm no designer (God help you if you need me to design anything), but I have to utilize design almost every day to do my job. My number one rule of thumb is this – just because I like it doesn't mean that the majority of the intended audience will.  The important part there is "the majority of the intended audience" because even Steve Jobs couldn't design something that everyone would like, but he was able to design products that literally enchanted a huge percentage of the human population. To me the ultimate goal with design is to make it as attractive and usable for the most people as humanly possible and that, my friends, is incredibly difficult and why I have no problem tapping the experts out there to do it for me.

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