Zen and the art of user experience design

Simplicity matters.

I can’t even count the number of times I have tried to do something in a software program and the process of attempting the task at hand was either needlessly complicated or hard to find or both. I almost used the word “confronted” in that last sentence, because that’s what it felt like – conflict. The program was not working with me, it was fighting me – using controls and ideas that an engineer had conceived, one that was alien to me as a use.

I do not want to fight software – I want to USE software.

As a user experience designer, I hope (and pray) to never inflict the type of contrived and ill-informed program on my users – that’s why I do my “due diligence” and research users, test my designs, and make the best solution I can for my company’s customers in the (always limited) time I have to deliver such a solution. And, in those times I find limited – which is more often than not – I follow two basic principles.

Wabi and Sabi.

What, you may think, is that? Well, they are two concepts of simplicity as defined in Zen (details here). I approach these concepts as a designer, not with any pretension or formal focus, but as guiding principles. I make the design simple and try and make it effortless for the user to take and use. My designs will never be perfect – nothing is.

I always focus on the saying I heard many years ago that “perfect is the enemy of good,” and so always try and I make the design appropriate and approachable more than anything else, using the language of the user and not some contrived technical terms or making the screen oppressive and, therefore, intimidating.

It isn’t easy, and I’m still working on it, but I definitely recommend that you take the concepts of Zen to heart whenever you approach a design problem. The simple path is sometimes far better than the complex one.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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