Obsession Eats Design
Inside Jeff Bezos’s failed attempt to make Amazon “cool” like Apple and Nike tells a fascinating story about obsession and values.
Basically the author talked to some designers who worked with Bezos on some of the most important Amazon products:
The Fire Phone illustrated that while Bezos is an open-minded and often instinctual thinker—many designers tell us they genuinely enjoyed working with him—he didn’t turn Amazon into a company that puts design first and places value on the insights and skepticism of designers. That’s important, because design-led companies consistently beat the industry standard, growing revenue faster and offering more returns to shareholders.
And also comes the pros and cons of pursuing solutions in search of problems:
A major part of design’s value proposition is the process. Designers identify problems to create solutions.
Amazon, on the other hand, has often identified solutions before naming the problem. Sometimes that approach worked. But often, it didn’t.
And don’t mistake a thriving design effort for a thriving design culture:
“Amazon will never be a design-led company. It’s evident in the quality of the products they ship. And although the design is still thriving there, I don’t believe it’s fundamental to the core DNA of the company,” says a former Amazon designer who worked closely with Bezos on several products. “Just because there’s ‘customer obsession’ doesn’t mean there’s an investment in quality and design rigor.”
The morale of the story is about a human-centred worldview:
When we look back on Bezos’s legacy at Amazon, will we see him as a paragon of intensely efficient UX with a spotty track record on industrial design? And to what extent will we remember the human and environmental costs of his ambition?
Bezos has indeed been customer-obsessed. However, this value alone does not mean a company is human-centered. The shortcoming of Amazon, as Bezos steps down as CEO, is not its value, but its values. These are the invisible costs of convenient UX, and why Amazon, to this day, may have become so large that it’s essential, but it is still neither cool nor loved.
Essential, but neither cool nor loved. Hmm… sounds like public sector?
Touch Screen in Cars
The Rise of Touch Screens in Cars Explained offers an interesting history about touch screen in cars.
If public opinion is so against touch interfaces in cars, why do car companies use them? I dove into this topic and confirmed my hypothesis: touch screens are not the problem per se, but car companies’ design execution is.
Of concern are three types of in-car interactions:
- Primary interactions: everything related to driving and safety
- Secondary interactions: frequent but brief actions
- Tertiary interactions: infrequent actions that take high cognitive load and longer to do
And over the years:
…the real visible change is an exponential increase in tertiary interactions.
The decision to use touch screen has a lot “to do with the increasing complexity of tertiary interactions”—
As the number of these interactions increases with each generation, indirect controls seem to perform worse than touch interaction, especially in two areas: task completion time and adoption.
Research has shown that tertiary tasks are performed significantly faster via touch interactions when compared to indirect controls. Even compared to other possible interaction techniques like gesture interaction and voice interaction, touch interaction performs equal, if not better.
Another reason is about “decluttering”:
[Decluttering] is a term that is often heard in design departments. It means to reduce the visual overload or perceived complexity of the interior.
And there’s also considerations on cost:
…carmakers may prefer to fit a standardized touch screen instead of a range of custom buttons and knobs because of the development cost.
But touch screen can be costly in other ways:
What is the impact of this difference in visual attention between touch controls and indirect controls? Experiments have shown that reaction times are slower, and there is a higher variance in driving behavior like lane departure and maintaining speed.
Other disadvantages are the lack of haptic feedback when selecting an object and the display’s placement, which is a trade-off between readability and reachability.
And the author is optimistic:
There will be more innovations like haptic feedback and new input types like gestures and better voice interaction in the next years. These will help to mitigate some of the disadvantages of touch screens.
Tips on designing inclusively for cognitive disabilities is a neat starter checklist.
Difficult to Explain
Scott Berkun compiled a list of UX design concepts that are difficult to explain, which is actually a great anecdotal lesson on the topic.
Ethical Design Guide
Ethical Design Guide is a great resource to follow:
Tech is always political. The way data is collected and handled is often biased, and many products are neither accessible nor inclusive. Ethical Design Guide is made to share resources on how to create ethical products that don’t cause harm.
First Run UX is a “catalog of first run user experiences in digital products.” Pretty neat!
Here’s a fascinating online tool that checks how many ads and trackers a webpage loads. Enter your favourite sites and see how desperate they are.