In an increasingly artificial world where environments are mostly designed by humans, the prevalence of digital artifacts are crucial to our daily lives and hence the important of interaction design, as the design of digital artifacts is equivalent to designing lives.
Due to the ever-changing and evolving nature of digital artifacts, being increasingly complicated, this also results in interaction design being complex. It is a really insightful reading about how design is not focused on coming to a solution based on the given problem. It is contradictory and full of dilemmas, where a designer has to think of new ways to perceive people and their daily lives, yet at the same time understand and empathise with others’ views. Being an interaction designer is a reflective process – being aware and tending towards one’s own design ability, the designs one produces, and how to impact the world by design ideas and decisions. It is important for designers to self-reflect. With the importance of reflection as an interaction designer, this reading also posed a really important question:
What is good design?
Good is relative to societal laws, regulations, agreements and contracts – plus considerations from democratic, cultural, and environmental ideals. It is hence a process we defining and redefining, based on reflection. While personal tastes might lead to differing opinions of good design or not – there are also practical signs that a designer can look at to gauge if a design is effective – e.g. a digital artifact that manages to truly disrupt industries, because it satisfies users’ needs.
Examples of thoughtful interaction design
Airbnb can be used as an example for thoughtful interaction design. It pioneered the way for new system where people could stay at apartment of a local, instead of the need to splurge on hotels. The designers had a goal of making users feel at home.
By designing a system that travellers could be matched to a home, neighbourhoods and experiences – this truly enabled people to feel more like they belonged to the country they were travelling in and hence gain an immersive experience. Their Design Language System (DLS) from the time of their humble beginnings of being a small company, compared to today, has been constantly evolving. This is a result of constant reflection to match the needs of upscaling to global needs, to changing trends and technology. According to Alex Schleifer, the vice president of Airbnb design, he mentioned:
It’s now owned by everyone that works on our product, which means it’s growing and changing every day. The way we look at it, we’ll never be done.
A design system needs to evolve at the pace of the company – or preferably even be slightly ahead, so it can support new projects.
Therefore, it is a constant process to match up to the growing complexities of systems – just like how thoughtful interaction design requires constant reflection.
It is worth mentioning how design is described as being so exciting as it can be driven by a will for change – changing how people live their lives and shaping their environment. Airbnb likewise was known to be disruptive to the travel industry, shifting people’s perception of accommodation – from hotels to wanting cheaper, immersive experiences which Airbnb offered – so disruptive that even countries had a ban Airbnbs to protect their hotel industry. It shows how powerful design thinking can be, especially when it is constantly evolving with reflective processes.
Food for thought
Back to the idea of ‘good design’, can a design be so good that it is then seen as good and bad in terms of its effects? For example, for Airbnb, it is effective to appeal to users. However, not so appealing to governments who want to protect a hotel industry. Its disruptive nature has caused much changes in the travel industry – does this also result in new systems to develop?
Not only did Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry, it also disrupted the housing industry. What do you think are the possible implications for people that are living in the cities? In the beginning, I felt a genuine connection with the people that opened up their homes for me to stay in. However, in my recent stays with the Airbnb platform, I found that things seem to have become more transactional, and mentally distant. It sort of fell into a mere guise of me being ‘integrated’ with the local people and culture, while at its core it has become no different from a hotel stay. As designers, our intentions always seem to be purposeful and meaningful. What happens if things evolve unexpectedly? How will that impact society? As designers, how can we re-tackle issues that arise out of our good intentions? How much should we (and governments) regulate this complexity?