Design is the new black

I attended BDNT last night in Boulder. It was my first time in a while, given my 10 month old daughter. It’s good to get out because often I’m so laser focused, I forget to look around once in a while.

At the start, Robert Reich gave some predictions for 2011, one of which was Design is the New Black (he got this from somewhere, I cannot remember where). I’m not designer, but I’m fanatical about usability and design, and I wonder why more companies don’t do this. I think there are two big companies in the US that are arguably the best at it. TiVO, and Apple.  My mom regularly breaks electronics, she still doesn’t know what copy/paste is on a computer, and doesn’t know how to create a folder.  But she loves her iPhone and her TiVO. I love them too because my mom never calls me to help her figure out how to do something on either device.

This morning, I opened up my December 2010 copy of Wired Magazine (yes, behind on reading too).  And there it was – another fantastic lesson in design and usability.  Wired took it upon themselves to update a blood test report from a lab.  By quickly reading their re-design, you could see what was concerning, where your results fell in comparison to normal, and actions to take to bring the items of concern back to normal.  The design took it from just data, to knowledge and insight.  I love it.  I’m not relying on my doctor to interpret the results (or to tell me everything on the chart), I’m not relying on my memory to remember what the hell I’m supposed to look out for.  I’m pretty sure I would get more tests and more blood workups, just to get this kind of knowledge about my body.  Look at that, design breeds spending.

I really wish someone (uhem, GOVERNMENT) would do this for our taxes.  Granted, there would have to be some visibility into what the hell the government spends our money on.  But still.  I would love to see it.  Here’s one company that got close to doing this.

I also wish the TV/BlueRay/cablebox/receiver/xbox/DVR/ guys would get their stuff together and put some usability into making all of those devices play nice.  My dad has the Harmony remote, which was a valiant effort, but not even close to getting there.  I don’t blame them, they’re trying.  I still need 4 remotes to either watch TV, play a movie, or play xbox.  Look people, it’s not hard.  On.  Off.  Volume up down.  Channel forward/back.  Play, stop, FF, RW.   Select Device.  Really.  I can’t even mention trying to set it all up.  You should see the insane mess of cables hiding behind the TV.  At some point, I just gave up and started pluging things in to any slot.  Eventually it worked.

I tried to heat up some food at my folks house over the holidays in their microwave.  I literally couldn’t figure out how to turn it on.  WTF?  My mom (oh the irony) had to show me how to turn on the microwave for 15 seconds.  All you need is Time, Power Level, Start, Stop.  Speed cook, slow cook, defrost meat vs defrost veggies vs convection, fan high, fan low.  Seriously people.  Over-engineered.

This all brings me to my point.  I agree.  Design is the new black.  I think people will pay for less features but easier usability and cleaner designs.  LESS features people.  I think if you need to include a manual, it’s already too complicated.  I think UI/UX developers will be the superstars of the software world.  So as we’re moving into TechStars Boulder Season #5, I’d love to see some teams that get how important design and usability will be.  The key?  Don’t think you know how to design.  Let your users tell you.