Do Designers Do?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Editor's Note: As any parent following my blog might have predicted from reading my last post, my adventures with the intestinal flu were not over with the recovery of my daughter. There was still the matter of Mrs. Van Horn and me catching it. That's where I was yesterday, but I'm fine now. Onward! founder and CEO Colin Nederkoorn posts the following on "One Reason GMail 2.0 on iOS Still Sucks":

What's wrong with this picture?

One thing is the ridiculous decision to create a thick grey moat around email content shrinking an already small viewport. That seems like a visual designer got their way instead of the simpler UX - letting the content fill the width.

But that's not the main problem.

This newsletter (and other mail like this) is uncomfortably small to read. So, what can you do? Pinch to zoom?
As it turns out, the larger text gets chopped off by said thick, grey moat.

This is a common kind of problem that pops up all over the place, and not just in computing interfaces. To take a recent example, I stayed for a week in an apartment complex that had units leased as temporary housing. The bathroom layout was atrocious. One bathroom had a fire alarm sensor within a foot of the shower room door that easily went off after someone had showered. The other was set up in such a way that it was impossible not to flood the adjoining bedroom with light if one decided to take an early shower. "Have the designers ever met travellers?" I wondered. The shower heads were low, too. This wasn't a problem for me, since I am slightly below average adult male height, but it would be for most men. (I notice this every time now after once staying in a place in which I did have to duck to use the shower head. Low shower heads are astoundingly common.)

At how many levels of planning and review must people be asleep -- or unwilling to speak up -- for things like this to occur? It causes me to wonder how much our culture values not rocking the boat vs. independent thought. Things still get done, and often well, but it bothers me to see glaring examples of thoughtless design on such a frequent basis.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

Gus, before we moved into our present house in St. Louis County, we asked the previous owners, as part of the deal to have their gas dryer hook up rewired for an electric dryer which is what we owned. When we moved in, we noticed it was rewired as a range! Now, I can’t even imagine being an electrician and putting an electrical outlet for a range next to a washer without questioning this scheme. Oh yes, after they wash their clothes, the next step is to fry or boil them!
Together my wife and I listed more than thirty exceptionally ridiculous incidences like this before, during or after we moved in. I wish I had written them down, because they would have made a great opening chapter for a new book! We were not sure if they are new house related, Missouri related, or that things are simply done this way in the USA compared to my home country, Canada. I have noticed a lot of things are simply done worse in St. Louis compared to Winnipeg, but I suspect if I returned to Canada I would notice the opposite.
But I’ve seen this sort of thing all my life. I don’t think it is specific to any country or province.
I’m like you though. No matter how many times I see this type of idiocy, I am still surprised. I am not sure though if like you say, this is because of a tendency for not ‘rocking the boat’ or rather simple laziness, apathy or stupidity.
Or all of the above.

Gus Van Horn said...


What an example! Is there no limit to human stupidity? I shouldn't be surprised, but I am.

I ultimately agree with you that there is more than one factor at play.