Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Michael Bissell's Blog

Form (designers) versus Function (geeks)

2010-04-07 10:24:20
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I need to make something clear -- I don't actually hate Apple. They make great products, they have amazing branding, incredible marketing, and a loyal customer base.

I hate that the competition doesn't do better.

I don't mean the competition doesn't make good products, I mean that they don't care about presentation and care more about features than usability. Technology has been controlled by the geeks, and geeks aren't exactly known for their fashion sense. Add a sense of "first to market" desperation and you get the DVD players, phones, and hard-to-use crap we spend way to much money and time on.

Most companies that try to blend form and function fail miserably -- the function guys (geeks) don't understand why the form guys (designers) insist on that shade of ecru and figure dirty white is good enough. The form guys can't understand why the function guys can't just make it work.

Instead of calling a simple device "revolutionary and magical", the geeks present a really complex, obtuse interface that does millions of things and say, "read the fucking manual" or worse yet, RTFM, being cryptic, insulting and unhelpful all in one tight little acronym. It doesn't matter that Apple's "Geniuses" are nimrods, they're friendly and polite and you feel okay about giving them a hundred bucks to throw away your old iPod.

As long as form doesn't kill you, it will always trump function. Hell, it can even kill you from time to time, cigarettes being a great example of marketing over benefit.

Somewhere on the Form<------>Function dialectic, you find management going off on a tangent. They don't care or understand either extreme and just wish the geeks and the designers would shut up and quit bitching and get a product out the door, usually rushing so the design is ugly, and the functionality just doesn't quite work.

"We'll send out a patch post-release..." The consumer shouldn't even know what a patch is, let alone a "beta" version. If they get one thing that works, that they don't have to call technical support for, that doesn't need a seminar or a training course, the will buy it. The iPad being a case in point.

Apple has mastered the art of Top Secret R&D which buys them time to get the product working, make it look and feel nice, and figure out how to make everyone believe that the limitations are really cool.

Now, if we could just get the rest of the tech world to slow down, talk a little, and produce something that works and is pleasing, then I can stop ranting about Apple.

Microsoft Courier
Bad Restroom Health Sign

Bruce Dickson: Re: Form (designers) versus Function (geeks)
2010-04-07 14:05:44

Could not have summed up the dilemma better. Apple suck totally for their whole control the user philosophy but Microsoft - with all their resources (leaving no room for excuses as a result) - consistently fail both the function and design tests!! No room for betas and patches is nothing but the truth. But the whole truth is that the world in general TOTALLY undervalues the absolute necessity and significance of GREAT design and its primacy in everything that helps make life itself great as well. Functionality to me is just a take it for granted ...

Teagan D: Re: Form (designers) versus Function (geeks)
2010-04-07 18:53:50

Good post; one thing in specific stuck out to me though: "We'll send out a patch post-release"

This mentality seems to have grown in apparent acceptability in recent years, with increased internet availability; nearly every program now has a 'patcher', and every patcher wants to update itself every day.

Despite the obvious inconvenience (I really hate patchers) of running daily, waiting for it to download, check, install and start your new version, it's simply bad form; it indicates to me that companies (and developers, in fact!) have become lazier- there's no reason to check for all the bugs, because users can report the problems for them and they can 'just patch it'. The increased presence of bug tracking systems being made public to the end users of large projects almost seems to confirm this... though I'm not sure it's such a horrible thing, it shouldn't be abused.

No longer do developers seem to want bulletproof software developed, management practically insisting against it so the product can get out the door faster. It leaves us users with a bunch of bug reports to file before we can actually use what we paid for...

I do, however, see the value of 'patchers' for software like QuickBooks/Quicken, and for antivirus solutions, it can be important to have the patcher run more frequently to keep things secured; but this should be used as a way to protect against newly discovered exploits; not bugs that management & the developers were too lazy or busy to fix.

I don't feel as hypocritical writing this as I might a bit ago, I've gotten a bit better at QA ;)

Apple seems to have it right with this, though... at least partially. I'm not really a fan of Apple as their interfaces feel too 'dumbed down', and I greatly dislike most of their 'control' policies (locking everything down 'for our own good'); I do yield to their way of making things very simple, however, they seem to do it right the first time.
In certain other instances, I've noted that if Apple can't package a complete feature, they simply exclude it; it could be the wrong thing to do, but it doesn't result in things breaking in the user's hands; I would imagine things like system-wide copy+paste and application multi-tasking on the iPhone OS might be an example of this...

They also have the ability to bring certain technologies into the spotlight for the purposes of advancing the entire field- MP3 players are the most obvious example of this, and now I'm hoping the same thing will happen with tablet PCs; as I'm sure you might recall, I love tablet PCs- it's just a shame that it seems as though the whole market has been stuck in the same rut for years; the same designs, the same specs, no originality. Apple's design isn't terribly original either (which is to say: not at all), but they will jump-start the market like they did with MP3 players. I'm hoping, at least. If not, I'll settle for Microsoft's Courier, which if you haven't seen it:
Looks way cool, if it matches up to the hype... and I love the form-factor. A book as a PC; perfect!

Anyway, your blog brought some interesting thoughts to mind, thanks.

John Bissell: Re: Form (designers) versus Function (geeks)
2010-04-08 18:21:10

A couple of points (Maybe a few). Michael is right. The products in question require people who don't speak the same language and have no empathy for the other side (i.e. form v function people). Both think that their part is the most important, so why do I have to pay any attention to the other.

However, this is not a new thing that just applies the tech industry faces. Civil Engineering v. Architecture - Car Designers, vs. drive train designers, Doctors v. nurses.

That solution is in management, that includes production criteria, education and enforcement. I know this method works from first hand experience in the Civil Engineering industry.

I also don't think the release early thing is new in American Industrial Culture either. This is in fact the exact problem that brought down GM, while the opposite - fix it on the line and release no flawed product - is what elevated Toyota.

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