What does it take to be an evangelist of good interface design?

Reference: The Art of Evangelism, Guy Kawasaki

Here are Kawasaki’s list of ten ways of looking at evangelism and my interpretation of them as someone who might be an evangelist within an organization for good interface design.

1. Create a cause.

We need to do good interface design on our products, because it makes life better for our customers. And for our sake, our customers judge us by the interfaces we provide them.

The interface is *the* medium that customers use to interact with our products. As such, the interface in turn becomes the application.

A product with great SQL queries and OOP architecture but a bad user interface is like a computer with a smoking processor and 2 GB of super fast memory, but the keyboard randomly enters the wrong character and the display is 10 inches, monotone, and at the wrong height.

Given a great application behind the scenes, if the interface sucks, then the application also sucks. If the interface rocks, then the application also rocks.

2. Love the cause.

I love good design. I study it. I notice and share good design when I run across it. Badly designed applications are caustic to me; they make me sick (seriously) and give me motivation to see them made right.

I hear talk of interface design and usability, sometimes synonymously. To avoid confusion, let’s put usability in its place–usability is not the end of design, it is one requirement of a great design. Usability is roughly defined as how easy it is to use a product. Design covers visceral, behavioral, and reflective aspects of a design, and usability is a piece only of behavioral design. (Refer to “Emotional Design,” by Donald Norman.)

3. Look for agnostics, ignore athiests.

Who can argue with good design; who are those athiests? Well, for one, they may be developers who see the true value of an application within the actual programming of the application. There is undeniable value there, but it is virtually invisble to customers. For another, there are some usability nuts who firmly believe that the best a design can be is usable. They’ve sold the product short, dismally so. For evidence, I point to the usable, but fairly ugly useit.com, Jakob Nielsen’s website.

To get people within an organization to hop onto the “we need to do good interface design” bandwagon, look for those people who haven’t really known what to think of it yet, who are open-minded. As the culture shifts, the rest will come along (cross your fingers).

4. Localize the pain.

Bad interface design results in painful things. Namely, too many support requests; frustrated customers on the phone; disenchanted end-users, who, incidentally, do not praise your product to their peers; customers who jump-ship to the competition because the grass looks greener.

There is also subtle pain for developers, I believe, and that is the lack of an ability to truly believe that they have contributed to the best application of its kind in the world. How confident are the developers in their apps? Are they rightly proud of the accumulation of their work?

5. Let people test drive the cause.

Believers have an experience. For good design, one way to provide that good experience to people in the organization is to have them look at before and afters of designs that once looked like their own work, to designs that could resemble their future work. Let them imagine, based on concrete examples.

One example could be the Paypal before/after by 37signals.

6. Learn to give a demo.

One great type of demo for use in production teams is to run sample user-tests with the development team. The test user should not be of the team, but could be someone else in the organization who isn’t as familiar with the product. The developers should play a role in the test, as observers. By taking part in a user-test, developers can begin to actually see how a design process can directly feed into the work they do.

7. Provide a safe first step.

Small, easy changes across an interface can turn into disproportionalely large rewards. Identify those short term, quick wins and take them. Savor them as evidence that the cause is indeed worthy.

8. Ignore pedigrees.

Evangelizing good interface design within an organization needs to happen at all levels. It is a value-shift of the people who work within the organization, and it will happen over time as a community. There must be top-level support, but we’re after belief and conviction, not compliance.

9. Never tell a lie.

One of the beauties of interface design is that it is a continual quest for the truth of an application. As an interface designer, there are some aspects of a design that I’ll feel comfortable tackling on the spot, because of my experience with other similar interfaces. However, there are so many variables, I have no trouble saying, “I don’t know how to handle this one. Let’s figure out a test scenario for ideas.”

10. Remember your friends.

We’re part of a commmunity that crosses our own boundaries of roles. We are not just developers and members of the organization, we’re also the end-users. Our family members, neighbors, and friends might be the users at some time. Part of the value of interface design is humility. What I think as a designer/developer does not match what our users think. Thus, good interface design hinges on an honoring of others and the ability to listen and see what is really going on, not just what we think is going on.


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