Can Design be Hostile?
November 9, 2015
This is the sixth in a series of nine posts on the All Things Open 2015 conference I attended in Raleigh in mid-October. For more information on the conference, along with videos and slides from the presenters, check out the conference website.
Sometimes when you’re at a conference, you go to a session where you think you’re getting one thing, and what you get is totally different. This is that session.
Hostile Design, a talk given by Shopify Lead UX Designer Cynthia Savard Saucier, was one I was looking forward to. In her session preview, she used the phrase “bad design can kill” and I thought she was going to talk about how poorly designed sites and projects can be painful to use (metaphorical pain here).
Her actual presentation… more of a tirade really… was about how a company’s clever promotion or user experience can actually hurt people (not metaphorical pain here) and how the poor design of her building’s evacuation alarm would lead us all to burn in a fire (not metaphorical fire here). Having trouble following her line of thought? So was I.
But there were a couple of key takeaways that I can get behind.
She started off with “the best designs don’t require instructions.” That is something I’ve been preaching for many years when it comes to web design. I had a client once who wanted instructional overlays for new users. Instead, I advocated for using standard web icons with tooltips, along with a simplified user experience.
The other thing I loved was the explanation of Dark Patterns, which are essentially web practices designed to trick a user into doing something that is in the company’s best interest, but not necessarily the user (Savard Saucier would be so mad about my repeated use of ‘user’ but that is what I do…). An example of this is opt-out email signups on checkout forms, or opt-out subscription services on a free trial signup.
This is the kind of hostile design that I’d originally thought of, and one that we can actually effect change on.