The Six Tenants of Experience Design

Design Is about experienceI had the great pleasure of hearing Don Norman talk about the tenants of good design at a recent conference.  Visually, Don is not particularly remarkable. He wore, almost a cliché, all black. He quietly approached the podium and somewhat humbly began his talk.His slides were mostly text.  A passerby looking in on the session would likely keep on going. But behind the modest persona are ideas that inspire and light up the idea of design. Just like the lessons Don teaches us design is not simply about visual appeal, it is about creating an EXPERIENCE. The experience Don took us through was inviting and full of practical advice. He was funny. He was memorable. He was so much more than a graying professional in all black who had trouble getting his slides to advance.

He taught us the six tenants of experience design:

  1. Understandable
  2. Pleasurable
  3. Self-explanatory
  4. Discoverable
  5. Interruption-proof
  6. Don’t give error messages, offer help

I found his talk a healthy reminder that looking good is not the goal. Making your audience FEEL good is the real accomplishment of good design, and good marketing in general.  There are few products that excel at all six of the tenants he describes but if you look around you’ll see many of them at play in unexpected places.

Take interruption-proof for example. I use Word Press to publish this blog. I start writing, get distracted by a phone call, the dog barking or my bladder yelling loudly to please take a break. You know what, when I come back the page is exactly as I left it because Word Press auto-saved as I wrote. It is a small feature that I pretty much ignore, but boy does it make my experience better.

The next time you are tasked with bringing a new solution to market remember to test against all six of these ideas. Give control to your would-be user and let them discover what works. Do they smile as they uncover unique new tips? Are they frustrated at having to search for how to execute a command? When something goes wrong do they know how to fix it? Or do error-messages leave them wanting more?

At the end of the day we don’t build products, we build experiences. Here’s to making them amazing!