About Scott Berkun

Writer, Author of Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds, The Myths of Innovation, Making things Happen, & Confessions of a Public Speaker

The most over designed light switch? Or useful complexity?

There is a perennial debate about how much design is too much. We all want simpler things, except when we don’t.

Here’s an entertaining example. How complex can you make a light switch? And is there an amount of complexity that so complicated you can’t imagine a situation where the complexity would be useful to someone?

This photo by Steve Portigal shows one candidate for the most sophisticated switch design of all time.

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Challenge: What is this UI for?

Traveling to foriegn countries is always fun for designers. You get to see entirely different ways to solve familiar problems, or to see designs that try to solve problems you’re not sure are problems at all.

Here’s a great example. We found this design: Can you guess what it’s for?

(Photo by Jill Stutzman)japan-ui

A 140 sq foot house

People measure homes by square foot, but size says nothing about how well designed that space is. I’m sure you’ve seen small homes that are arranged in smart ways that make much better use of space, and are therefore more comfortable, than much larger, more expensive homes.

Here’s an example at the micro level – a 140sq foot house:

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From Science Friday.

Over-designed shower UI

When you travel often you notice how many different and bad ways there are to design controls for a shower. Sometimes you find designs like this one, in a rented house I stayed at in Ft. Lauderdale, where, like bad software, the number of features added inspires complicated design in the misguided attempt to provide value for all of those fancy features.shower1

The result in this case is a panel that looks like the front end of a bank safe. It took me a few minutes to figure out that the large knob the right only controlled one thing: the main shower head hovering above, which you can see in the second photo. What a sneaky shower!

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I did wonder what the design thinking was: did these people work at a nuclear power plant, or a slaughterhouse, and need daily 360 washdowns? Did they have little faith in any one shower head design to provide enough cleaning power?

I never found out. In my showers I did experiment with the other knobs. By default all streams are on, and the vertical line of three aim directly at your belly, or your face, depending on how tall you are. My own experimentation revealed these things were pointless, except for ensuring the spot in the middle of my back got as much attention as all the places my arms can naturally reach. When turning them off I was delighted to discover it improved the water pressure to the two overhead fixtures. 

This is Not a Door

 

 

Language is a curious thing. I believe this object is a door, but it is not being used as one by the current occupants. It’d be more accurate to say “do not use this door”, but it’s certainly bolder to claim the door is not a door at all, simply because you don’t want anyone to use it. not a door

Photo by Nicolas Nova Related: This is not a pipe

What to do with payphones? Design competition

When I was a kid payphones in NYC were a big part of life. It was how you’d change plans with a friend, make reservations for dinner, or dozens of other small social connections that have collapsed down into our mobile phones.

But the cases and frames for all of these phones still exist, even if the phones themselves do not.

 

A design competition in NYC has five different designs for the ‘payphone’ of the future. You can vote on your favorite.

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You can vote here.

Choose your own soup: design and food

As anyone who tries to read a bad restaurant website menu knows, menu design in print or on the web is a craft unto itself. The challenges rise if the menu has to be interactive too.

At King Noodle in Seattle the premise is you can be the King (or Queen) of your own soup. When you sit down you’re handed a nicely designed sheet of paper with their array of ingredients listed for you. IMG_5985

While there are complete soups you can order, the spirt of the place is to build a soup yourself. You pick from 5 broths, several different kinds of noodles, and a wide range of other ingredients.

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I went for the spicy broth with noodles, wontons, bbq pork, beansprouts and cabbage. I was worried about how well my choices would blend together but those worries were unfounded. The broth was good, balancing all of my choices together, and all of the ingredients tasted fresh (or fresh enough to pass the ‘be in soup’ bar). It was an excellent meal for a cold winter day. IMG_5991

While I talked with friends Chad and Kav as we waited for our food, I mentioned how the menu could encourage customers to experiment. Why not offer recipies to try in the future that were known to be interesting? Something like what Jelly Belly does on the back of their jelly bean packages.

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