Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why Design is Important: A Developer's Perspective

Last April, I found this really amazing project on Github (made by xxuejie). The project fascinated me, but the website was a bit hard to use - I wanted people to know about his project and enjoy it like I had.

So I forked the project, added a stylesheet and huge mess of jQuery and deployed the newly modified version. (xxuejie loved it, but didn't have time to maintain it, so we kept the forked version)

Original version:
Modified version:

A few months later the modified version landed on HackerNews. It was well received, got tons of visits and was tweeted all over the place. There were blog posts in Japanese & Chinese. Even folks at my supposed "arch enemy" Microsoft blogged about it.

Most people would call such an experience satisfying, but for some reason I wasn't sure :)

On one hand, it was a huge compliment to have a project so highly regarded by your peers, on the other hand it kind of miffed me...

How could a bunch of styling changes and user interface upgrades make such a difference? My other projects seemed more intricate & technical but were never received in that fashion.

So I chewed on it for a bit.

It turns out I made the classic techie mistake of thinking in purely technical terms. I had factored out the human element.

For us humans, vision is (arguably) our most important sense (highest bandwidth). When an object doesn't communicate a compelling visual element, it leaves an important channel to the brain unused and negatively impacts its usability potential.

Put another way, it doesn't matter how technically awesome something is - if it fails to register with a human brain, it will never be relevant. Some techies might consider that unfortunate, I don't (anymore), its just how the world works.

Without good design (and for that matter good content, marketing, information architecture & sales strategies) our software & hardware would live an inconsequential existence. Technology is just one piece of the puzzle.

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