Why Designers Go Astray

Good design needs to be balanced.

Look at it this way. If designs were ruled by aesthetics then the world might be more pleasing to the eye but not very comfortable. If it were ruled by usability it would be comfortable but probably very ugly. If cost and ease of manufacture was the deciding factor the world would be neither attractive or functional or even durable!

Designers often go astray for a number of reasons. For a start, the reward structure of the design community tends to focus more on aesthetics. Secondly, designers aren’t typical users. They become so expert in the object they have designed that they struggle to see why the average person would have any trouble using it. Only through interaction and testing with actual users can you expose the obvious flaws. Thirdly, designers often have to work with the specifications given by the client who may not always be the user and may well have neglected the users needs.

A good example of this is in the design of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offices in Los Angeles and Seattle. A major feature of the design process was that the staff could have a say in certain aspects usually dictated by authorities in the federal service such as furniture and office layout. Architect Sam Sloan coordinated the project and came to an agreement with the General Services Administration to included the employees at the Seattle branch in the design process while leaving the LA branch to the architects.

Which design was preferred by the users? The Seattle branch!

FFA Seattle Branch

Which design won the awards? The Los Angeles branch!

FFA Los Angeles Branch

FFA Los Angeles Branch

Several months following the opening of the new buildings, surveys were carried out. The Seattle workers were more satisfied with their work place than the LA workers. But the LA branch won several awards from the American Institute of Architects while the build in Seattle received no recognition what so ever. One member of the AIA jury justified his denial of an award to Seattle because of its “residential quality” and “lack of discipline and control” which is what the users said they liked most about it.

FFA Seattle Branch

So there is a clear difference of opinion between the designers and the users in this case. Employees even rated their satisfaction with their job performance before and after the move. Results showed no change in the LA office and a 7% improvement in rated job performance in Seattle.

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