Thanks Matt. It’s good to hear what you’re thinking.
I’m glad Matt has come to the party and continued in the spirit of my cake references. And it’s good to see him remembering one of my favourite quotes too:
"Designing an interface to be usable is like a chef creating edible food."
I’ll illustrate why this quote undermines Matt’s whole argument in a minute.
Matt has chosen to enter the debate with a clever repositioning of his topic in light of my opening salvo. It doesn’t do much for his actual arguments, but fortunately you’re all enjoying the scenic route as he rambles from one point to another, so at least it's educational! To make sure it is so, let's together pick apart Matt's points, one by one.
The fundamental problem with Matt's position
Matt seems to be arguing that exploratory design should only consider usability
an innovative idea has been generated. This is counter to my demonstrations that delight is achieved as an over-delivery or extension of usability, and that innovation and usability are not mutually exclusive.
Dean shared an excellent point above; that being able to overlook the face-value of usability tests can be important, in his example because the bottle opener actually performed its use excellently. Its delightfulness came through the fundamental usability redefining the solution, transforming an unsavoury initial impression into passionate advocacy.
This is where Matt's
rookie mistake comes in. The logical extension of his opinion that delight can only be injected through creativity (not usability) is that user research overly defines the project’s functional scope. This isn't true. Seeing as we’re peppering our debate posts with quotes, let’s use this one that Henry
Ford didn’t say, but does help explain things:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” - Not Henry Ford
Essentially, we shouldn't limit our ability to provide innovative, usable solutions by taking our users at face value. Understand their context behind what they say, and use this as the basis of our design. How can we design for accessibility, and even make it delightful, unless we know accessibility is an issue?
"You'll never know if you just start baking."
Indeed! Although Matt's idea of exploring delight without a foundation is surely the same thing? It proceeds by jumping in the deep end and seeing where you end up, so I'm a little unclear what he's trying to say. At least building from usable to delightful has a solid foundation and a clear, repeatable, reliable process with the ability to add infinite delight where appropriate.
Luckily the first thing I
do when I first start my food planning is to start baking. Well, of course there’s nothing to bake yet! Instead, my first task is to research the intended users (my partner or family) about their needs and context. Are they hungry? Are their preferences sweet or savoury? Are they on a health-kick? Do they have any allergies? I then survey the available resources (neatly kept in the pantry), my own goals (goal: to feed a group of four with dessert and make them want to come back again next time) and my own mood (my intentions to improve how I provide for my diners). I set a direction and define my project.
I know two novel ingredients have particular properties and decide to combine them. I
then enter an iterative phase of taste-testing, experimenting and adjusting.
I put it in the oven to bake it and deliver to the waiting diners.
Delight is an over-delivery on expectations
I’m an advocate of experimentation and new approaches, but I don’t believe
can be properly considered before
. When pushing design boundaries we redefine experiences and thus ultimately change behaviour. Matt already recognises this in his story about Google Maps going above and beyond with the voice of Mrs Google, so it should be easy to help him make the rest of the connection; at the time he experienced the 'driving directions' feature it added an entirely new dimension. However, after his expectations changed, this cherry became essential functionality. This demonstrates how tomorrow's cherries are an extension of today's expected and usable functionality.
Becoming a connoisseur of something often means you expect more and notice subtle differences that other people may miss. We’re all becoming connoisseurs of a particular experience when we use it, and thus our experience-noses are becoming better attuned to the benefits that a particular delight opens up to us.
As with the quote from Aaron Walters, aspiring only to create something usable is like a chef aspiring to create something edible. A truly fine dining experience is not only getting the basics right, but also considering emotion in a way that can help define that experience. Delight comes in when
understands these basics and uses them to take dishes to an entirely new level, to extend and expand on basic edibility in astonishing ways, to over-deliver on expectations. His experimentation comes through understanding the science of
- what happens chemically when certain foods combine or cook. Note that molecular gastronomy is also known as 'avante-garde cuisine', 'emotional cuisine', or 'the forward-thinking movement'. See how this grounding in an understanding of science is not mutually exclusive with delight? In fact, see how it accentuates delight? Our understanding of usability can also propel us to the cutting-edge of delight and emotional design in our projects.
During ideation, ‘Delight’ is not the same as ‘creativity’
It’s an important difference. The refinement vs exploration diagram Matt linked to cannot be used for his argument. Refinement and exploration are two approaches commonly used together consecutively to consolidate ideas or explode potential within a single project, as Matt even mentioned himself when he said:
"... a path that is so crazy that it would be impossible to make it useable. But that’s when we need to refine."
Refinement is an essential part of the user-centred design process, and exploration is essential for identifying user needs (and wants) as anyone who has done design work based on user research will know well.
Finesse is not optional for master chefs
Examining all the masters who practice finesse, you’ll see that delight is what makes the difference. Sure, cherries are not essential for cakes, but when you’re a master chef aiming to create a heavenly dish with humour and emotional resonance, the presentation and delight created by that Kirsh-injected, microwaved cherry on a square of almond, with a caterpillar of stabilised egg-white are a critical point of difference. I challenge you to find a master chef that lets a dish out of their kitchen as a plain sponge, or without the garnish and that cherry looking just right.
Matt has swerved into agreement with my argument when he claims that:
“true delight comes from wowing users by solving their problem in an innovative way”
Although, it is more accurate when reworded as:
“true delight comes from wowing users with a usable solution that solves their problem in an innovative way.”
After all, speed, context and new features are all aimed at improving usability first, not delight. Delight is the emotion induced when we deliver above and beyond. Delight is therefore an over-delivery of usability, and thus can’t exist without a strong foundation in it. Our master chef Heston has finesse because he understands how human senses work, and has experimented with new ideas to connect these in new ways. He has an excellent awareness of usability that forms the basis of his thinking.
Usability is the mother of invention
Throughout history, many noble inventions have come about through necessity - through addressing a usability need. They are a sheer delight because they improve the fundamental experience. My concerns with Matt’s approach are that designers and businesses will attempt to artificially create delight for the sake of marketing without first understanding the context. They’ll be the crazy, aspiring kitchen hands and apprentices that flail about at random, sometimes chancing upon a delightful creation. But they’ll never be able to cleverly and consistently deliver a fresh dish with delight and finesse unless they’ve taken the time (like the master chefs) to learn usability through the mistakes of others, to understand the potential of their ingredients, the intricacies of human senses, of atmosphere and the importance of presentation.
Usability must be understood, and form the foundation of a project, before delight is possible.