September 15, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Strange Roads, Chick-Fil-A, and Desire Lines

There’s a Chick-fil-A across the street from my office in Lehi that I sometimes go to. (I love their breakfast muffins.) Unfortunately, there’s a problem.

To showcase this problem, I pulled up this satellite picture of the situation. (It’s outdated, so I added a picture where Chick-fil-A is.) The blue arrows show how I turn from the highway into the road where Chick-fil-A (and my work) is.

Now, here’s the kicker. There are two roads you can use to get into this area. The road closest to Chick-fil-A, the road most natural to turn into, has a strange innovation: a triangle structure, which encourages cars only to turn in when driving north-from-south (in this picture, driving upwards toward the highway). So basically, if I’m coming on the blue arrows (from the north), they’re saying: take the next road, the green road. It’s longer, but the entrance is safer.

Here’s the thing. Ain’t nobody got time for that. People end up doing this:

Which is, mind you, unsafe–both to the drivers and to the pedestrians, because pedestrians aren’t expecting to have to look out for cars coming in this way, and because if the car has to stop for any reason, they’re in the line of traffic.

But here’s the thing: it’s also entirely natural–and it’s used more often than the “safe” (green) path. When I’m in the car, I expect to be able to take a left into that road. The triangle thing is so unnatural, even though it was probably built because the middle turn lane wasn’t long enough at that point. So it makes sense, perhaps, from a road design perspective; but it doesn’t make sense from what drivers expect.

This is an example, I’ve learned, of something called a desire line. I first read about these in the book Universal Principles of Design, where is says this:

Desire lines generally refer to to worn paths where people naturally walk–the beaten path that trails off the sidewalk, usually as a shortcut to a destination–but can be applied more broadly to any signs or traces of user activity in an object or environment. The implicit claim of desire lines is that they represent an unbiased indication of how an object or environment is actually used by people…

Wikipedia also adds some fun synonyms: “game trail, social trail, herd path, cow path, goat track, pig trail, use trail or bootleg trail.” I’ve also seen them called elephant tracks or “pedestrian’s revenge” (which wins for being the most memorable, I think). Again: they’re just the unpaved paths that develop based on animal and human traffic. If you google “desire lines,” you get pictures like this:

Which I think relates back to the Chick-fil-A example perfectly.

The obvious design implication for Chick-fil-A (and whoever owns or manages the property) is that this desire line, this evidence of human activity, is the preferred path. This is important–all the more so because this behavior has lots of implications for the safety of drivers and pedestrians alike.

The implications for designers generally is this: consider how users actually use your products. For interface design, this can be discovered through analytics, heat maps, and good old user testing. Where do people using the product stumble? How do they behave? Are there instances where they try to take a shortcut, using the product in an unintended way?

Something to think about. In the meantime, be careful when driving to Chick-fil-A!

September 4, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Alan Cooper, Jared Spool, and the ROI of UX

I enjoyed reading a recent exchange between Alan Cooper and Jared Spool this weekend about this question: “What is the ROI of UX?” Alan Cooper argues that good design doesn’t have value–at least, not if the company and boss is seriously asking .

From what I gather, Alan Cooper is an intelligent man whose work has impacted the industry for good, so I can’t believe that he is arguing that UX has no value–period. But I do think he’s arguing that the value should be assumed, and that the company has no need to be persuaded. If you have to persuade the company of the value of good design, Alan seems to be saying, then you have a choice: stay, or leave and find some place where your work’s value is seen.

Jared Spool responds–rightly, I think–that yes, there is value, a “return on investment,” of UX–though not all design is valuable, and not all valuable design is equal. And he argues that Alan Cooper is presenting a privileged, and foolish, choice. It’s a privilege if we can just leave and find some place that values us–a privilege that not all designers have. And it’s foolish. By this, I mean it’s a “fool’s choice,” a term I’m borrowing from Crucial Conversations: it’s a false dichotomy, an “either/or” that ought to be replaced with an “and.” Can’t we stay and help others at our company see the value of our work?

Of course we can. Jared Spool regularly argues for the value of UX here. Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen have a website, Norman Nielsen group, that is a great go-to place for new studies and evidences on the value of UX. For a more practical guide, Tom Greever has a whole book on the subject of communicating design decisions, a book I really need to read again. And Product Hive, my local group in Utah, has meetups that regularly discuss the value of UX, from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives.

Jared Spool’s conclusion–his answer to his either/or question–is this: be a design leader. Be someone who can persuade others to see the value of the design work we do.

A design leader finds where poor design is costing the organization money and pain. They start documenting it and put together ideas around what the design team could do differently to reduce those costs.

When the boss comes to ask, the design leader will be ready with answers for them. They can tell their boss which poor designs cost their organization and how they believe they could fix it.

Good ROI happens when the cost of fixing a problem is less than the ongoing costs of letting the problem continue. By having a ready plan, they’ll have the perfect starting point to discuss the ROI of design.

Jared Spool

I think there’s something to this. Obviously, finding “where poor design is costing the organization money and pain” is easier said than done. And I work at an agency / consultancy, where the rules are different: we work with a variety of clients, and I can’t change those clients minds in every instance. I can’t always argue on the strategical level, for a client’s whole company, that they need to reprioritize design. But in a way, this is a blessing: I have to argue on the tactical level–project by project, client by client, button by button and design by design–why this design matters. I’m forced, at an agency, to be incredibly concrete with my arguments, to argue for the value specifically, which is surely a powerful foundation to being able to argue for good design on a broader, more strategic level. And that’s what makes a design leader a design leader: they know how to communicate that value, to discover, uncover, and articulate it.

Jared is implying that UX design is, generally speaking, very valuable. It has a return, and in cases where it’s well-practiced, a strong one. Whether it’s the costs of poor design, or the potential earnings of delightful designs, it does. I can’t forget that, and I can’t afford to let others, either.