Usable‘s usually boring

Usable (UI) design is mostly boring: everything is where and looks and works how anyone would expect it.

A designer (falling for their ego) trying to design something “unique”, “fancy” and “innovative” for every detail sets themselves up to put in more work while ending up with output that is worse for users.

Some of the most effective design critique points I’ve seen were along the lines of: „This is a bread and butter interaction found in other popular tools - let’s copy the best version and fix what they got wrong”. This feedback is valuable because patterns found in popular tools often went through a thorough design process and iteration until they proved themselves to be working well. Secondly, they taught users the pattern, and users are now accustomed to expect a certain type of interaction to work a certain way. Delivering on this expectation means that users don’t need to re-learn an interaction, and perceive it to be intuitive.

Just re-warming the usual luke-warm interactions, this doesn’t sound like there’s much fun to be had as designer, right?

Wrong! Tons of creative genius are required for good work on design. In UI design this might be about structuring information architecture and flows in a logical way. Around evolving designs in a coherent way, without disrupting existing usage as scope and goals change. This requires careful accounting for past decisions and good guesses around future needs.

Designing well requires a deep understanding of the user’s goals and the topic/domain of the tool. Seamless wiring and molding of interchangeable “bread and butter” parts to the unique aspects of the tool, which are the ones providing the value for users.

These differentiated parts are the ones where designers get to stretch their muscles for unique work.

And, to satisfy the personal desire for some vanity, there tends to be a million details which can be polished to shine . Some users will notice those details, and a consistent high level of polish will create a halo of quality around the tool.