Design by anger

I am one of those designers who gets physically ill when confronted with a particularly egregious design mistake or a complex problem that assaults my design sensibilities. My heart rate quickens. I get sweaty. Sometimes I get a red flush on my face and neck. Usually, followed by a headache, mild nausea and general malaise until I manage to solve the problem. I’ve lived with this for a long time and even publicly discussed it on the Internets on several occasions.

There are some advantages, though. Especially for my clients. I am highly motivated to solve their design problems, even if it’s just to make myself feel better.

Until the solution is at hand, I’m angry. Angry at the problem. Angry at the people who created it in the first place. Angry at others who didn’t try harder. Angry at technological barriers. Angry at our lack of understanding of cognitive processes. Angry at the tax it places on my enjoyment of life and the burden it dumps on users. Anger is often my motivator to slice through design problems.

The payoff is the heightened feeling one gets when the problem is solved…all the more sweeter as it comes after an anger-coated adrenaline rush.

Apparently, I’m not alone:

This is why most dorks and nerds fail to launch start-ups that last. The technology is good and the applications can be fun but they approach a problem the wrong way: to a nerd, a problem is fun. It just doesn’t make them angry enough.

Product managers worrying about adoption curves for their new application should stop concentrating on features and look to the emotions and the experiences of their customers. Consumers change behaviour through anger. Skype, for instance, tapped into a general feeling in the market of “I’m angry at my telco”.

Jeff Bonforte, a senior director at Yahoo!, talks about anger driving innovation in a podcast at ITConversations.

I’d love to know if anybody else feels the same way.

One thought on “Design by anger

  1. Here’s one person who feels the same way; I don’t get literally red in the face but I do get angry at badly-designed entities. I say “entities” because I include in this category more than single objects: poorly designed products including software, scissors with uncomfortably small finger openings, electric can openers that don’t work….and other things like demeaning ad campaigns…and big things like the planning and carrying-out of our current war. Most human beings work on habit and emotion, have little use for rational thought, and cannot hold two thoughts at the same time especially if one contradicts the other in part or in whole. As a result it is crucial that individuals who do actually design things and make big decisions should be selected for having a high degree of relevant abilities and dedication to achieving a clearly defined purpose. That doesn’t happen either.

    With regard to consumer products I have some hope that the online customer feedback sites, which some large sales sites provide for each specific product, will effect some positive change. Recently I went online looking for 2 pairs of walking shoes and made my decision entirely on the basis of customer comments. (And was pleased with results!) The brand I started out favoring was quickly knocked off the list of possibles—now made in China, comfort and quality gone. When companies catch on that there is now an effective mode of pre-sale communication from past customers to new potential customers, maybe acceptable standards of quality and customer service will begin to be met. The customer is the final arbiter; if we cannot rely on designers then customers must exercise informed judgment and make their experience count.

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