Constraints

*This post was contributed by Ian Deming*

Matt Gemmell's blog post titled "Constraints" was published back in July, but in light of my parent's recent decision to buy new phones (they chose the Galaxy S4), I think it's worth sharing.

Generally, the best products demonstrate choice rather than offering it. Wise choices made on your behalf before you were even aware of them. Good compromises, made so that you wouldn’t ever have to make bad ones.

My parents, not being the most tech-savvy of individuals, had me assist with connecting their brand new Galaxy phones to their home wifi, setting up some preferences, adding some apps, removing others, etc.

While I am self-admittedly an avid user of all-things Apple, I was actually looking forward to helping my parents set up their devices, primarily to get my hands on the newest iteration of the Android OS, which I had heard had been much improved from prior iterations. My excitement quickly turned to frustration.

From difficult-to-find menus to buttons that didn't appear to function (dragging an app icon to the trash bin for example, does absolutely nothing), my resolve quickly waned. In an attempt to delete the dozens of pre-installed apps (most of which didn't have a clear function based on the name and icon), I found that I needed to use the Android App Manager to manage, close, or delete apps. The App Manager more closely resembles activity manager than anything else. This phone was 6 hours young and had over 100 open "applications" - most of which were under-the-hood system operations that the vast majority of of users would never need to know about. I couldn't find the apps I was looking to delete within the App Manger, and was actually given the option to disable or delete what appeared to be core system functions.

I couldn't help but wonder how such a popular operating system, backed by the giant that is Google, was so un-intuitive, even for someone like myself who is used to quickly learning and becoming proficient with new digital processes and systems. Was this device designed specifically for power users? If so, why was it sold to my parents?

Unfortunately for my parents, they aren't equipped to make choices between the number of options before them. They are choosing what sounds nice, what looks cool, and most likely, whatever the Verizon rep who found them at the store recommends.

However, the onus is not ultimately on the consumer to make the right choice under the weight of marketing grandeur, nor on the minimum-wage sales rep and his/her ability to sell the right device among a sea of terrible ones; the onus is on designers to create better, more sensible, "constrained" products.

So we must choose. This or that. What’s more important to you? But the users don’t really get to make a complete choice. Instead, we’re given perhaps a handful of customisation options, and little input into the overall design. That’s a sensible and healthy state of affairs, as long as the actual designers are doing their jobs properly. Many aren’t.

Check out the rest of Matt Gemmell's excellent writing on his website.