Weekly Notes: Chapter 8 & Chapter 11-Synthesizing Good Design and Eliminating Excise

04 Nov

For this week in reading from About Face 3, the chapters discuss principles and patterns of good design, and eliminating excise with chapters 8 and 11, respectively.

Chapter 8 is a basic overview of principles that most in any type of design should be familiar with: design values, conceptual principles, behavioural principles, and interface level principles; each of these carries their own specific weight, but none is more important than any of the others. A big portion of this chapter is about minimizing work-a principle that has been echoed across literature from Tufte (with visual information), Nielson, and Krug (both with usability). Amongst these factors are cognitive work, memory work, visual work, and physical work, all of which once they break a certain threshold becomes an encumbrance to the user and thus, is abandoned. The latter half of this chapter discusses design patterns: using the principles listed above to achieve a coherent, simple, and effective design, and thus using it to build later designs of equal effectiveness, or utilization for improvement. The key points I took from the chapter are that:

  • designs should be simple; to the point
  • designs should define what a product is, and its relevance
  • how should a product be used?
  • how well is this visually communicated?
  • minimize work-if you feel its taking too long/too much, it most likely is
  • stimulate cognition and achieve goals/purpose
  • don’t ignore potential issues
  • facilitate interaction

Chapter 11 discusses excise: adding too many actions to a user’s ‘queue’ of actions to accomplish a goal. Excise is very heavily discussed in Krug’s literature “Don’t Make Me Think!”, as he strongly advocate removing as many steps as he feasibly can to get the user from point A to B. In this book, the entire chapter is dedicated to discussing and understanding what excise is, how designers can eliminate it. Within the chapter itself, there is a explicit bookmark made to highlight the principle: ‘Eliminate excise wherever possible.’ It also discusses the differences between power users and novice users. It also discusses the differences of types of excise, and defines that some forms of excise are ok-as long as they don’t detract from the primary goal too much, which is getting the user to their end goal. Later in the chapter, it even uses the Walt Disney website as an example of excise-and how excise can be used to the designer’s advantage. Another principle that was highlighted was stopping proceedings with idiocy: error boxes that blame the user, pop-ups that are irrelevant to the task, or auto-updates are all examples of stopping proceedings with idiocy. The easiest way to remember it for me was as follows-if it disrupts my work for a reason I can’t immediately define (such as not loading a CD generates a message saying ‘Please load the CD.’-that’s at least logic-driven), it’s idiocy (‘The file does not exist’ doesn’t tell me anything except that you aren’t looking for it, and to boot, you expect me to ok with it. Thanks.). The list printed within the chapter (while admittedly hysterical), is sad, but true; these are all commands that just shouldn’t exist in an interface, such as asking permission to change a value in a form, popping up windows that are poorly sized, or confirmation.

An aside: I have always-ALWAYS-hated video games for the last violation. Why are you asking me if I’m sure I want to save? If I went to ‘Save’, and it booted my memory card/hard drive/storage device, it should JUST SAVE. Why is it after I’ve made it to the finish line, someone stops me and says ‘Wait! Are you sure you want to do this?! It’ll save your game if you do!’ I thought that’s what I said to do in the first place?!

It also defines excise in navigation. Another good example it brought up was within Adobe Photoshop. While I do agree that they need some type of system that collapses are their tools in a neat, orderly fashion, it needs to be addressed. I should have to stop my painting and click something to change tools, and mapping the same key to 8 tools doesn’t exactly help. Annotations, diagrams, and overviews tend to help with robust setups such as this. They also tend to avoid mapping problems, as defined in the book with a conventional stove and with drop down menus that simply say ‘ascending’ or ‘descending’. Ascending…by what criteria, and also how well is that criteria defined. Ascending by date doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get recent items first.

Overall, I took from both chapters a reiteration of the things we’ve been discussing over the semester. It would be nice to say that ‘design should be driven by common sense,’ but the fact of the matter is that it just can’t be.

However, my concerns still stand in the following fashion: while these principles are very clear, how do we as designers know that we’re following them to the T? We’ve learned about demographics, persona, user goals and user needs, but I still feel as though all it takes is one mistake, and a potentially good design can become destructive-fast. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve always had trouble with Photoshop’s interface-and I practically live in Photoshop; I’m a designer as well. How is it that in some scenarios, the mark is consistently missed? It feels as though the design principles mentioned in Chapter 8 are not being implemented in the final product. Unfortunately, I know that they are-it becomes a case of memorization, as stated with memory excise. This, however, infuriates me more when I’ve finally grown accustom to the interface only to be forced to download or convert to a new version, which redesigns and relocates everything I just memorized.

The chapters present interesting issues in regards to design, but still makes me wonder if there are better ways to address them aside from more sampling, more testing, more data collection? I suppose at that point it becomes an argument of being more cautious with designs, and being more attentive as a user. However, I feel telling a user to be ‘more attentive’ can be considered insulting, so it still falls back on the designer to adhere to the principles and ‘do their best/put their best foot forward.’

1 Comment

Posted by on November 4, 2010 in Uncategorized


One response to “Weekly Notes: Chapter 8 & Chapter 11-Synthesizing Good Design and Eliminating Excise

  1. Mihaela

    November 4, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Thank you for posting your reading notes on time! I do agree that as clear as the principles sound when you read them, applying them can get tricky sometimes. That’s why it’s good practice to keep an eye out for examples of these principles in action (and maybe even post them on a blog).


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