Design Still Matters


Take a look at your phone. Check out your lock screen. Notice the banners, the icons, the many directions you can swipe to change your screen into something new where you're bombarded with more information. Now jump to the home screen. You probably have a series of icons with intense and jarring colors, each one more vivid than the rest. Move from page to page, and you'll see an unending barrage of choices, each one vying for your attention.

Now go back in time, and think about your first phone. I can hear that familiar ringtone already.

Suddenly you can feel the weight falling off your back. It's like you remember how simple life was back then, yet somehow you still got everything done. How did that basic of device, with only 2 features - calling and texting - somehow make us more productive, but not as stressed?

"With great power comes great responsibility."

Yes, I'll quote pop culture to make a point, but the underlying premise here has never been more true. As we ride along this meteoric exponential curve that is our current technology revolution, we're facing our own reflection in the mirror and asking ourselves what we're capable of and what we should build. We're at a time where people like Elon Musk can speak an idea into existence and bring it to life within a matter of months.

But there's a cost.

When gone unchecked, we don't know our own power, and when we design without careful consideration, we end up worse off than when we began.

I live in New York City, and one of my favorite and most recurring pastimes is watching everyone on their morning commutes, staring down at their devices. There's almost no other place on Earth where you can observe the leaders of modern humanity in such a vulnerable position. These are the individuals aiming to change the world and lead our species into an era of unparalleled greatness and potential.

And they're mindlessly scrolling through their phone, rearranging their icons, rapidly scrolling through social media, or nervously reviewing their device settings. It's as if they're looking for some great answer to the universe within the confines of a 5-1/2 inch screen. It's really quite humbling and embarrassing.

So how did we fall from being aided by our digital devices to being enslaved by them only a decade later?

It's in the design. 

Software design is nothing new, engineers have been duking it out over the years, whether it's command line interface vs. graphical interface, mouse vs. touch input, or open file structure vs. closed file structure. And now we stand at another crossroad. What is the ideal mobile experience?

The truth is, software developers have overloaded our devices with so much excess junk and noise, that we no longer feel we're in control of our devices.

If that doesn't scare you, then you're probably living on a ranch with a land phone.

The current dilemma is not "how do we do more" - it's "how do we do it simpler, better, easier"? Software development has exploded so much in the last few years that you can find hundreds of apps for any given task. We're just throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. We're the pack of drivers zooming past the pace car before ever seeing the course.

We need more thoughtfulness, more intention, more focus. We need to say no to 1000 things for every 1 thing we make. We need an interface that instills peace, not restlessness. We have to consolidate the myriad of choices into a simple workflow so that we can understand our devices completely. This means reflecting on your exact digital needs, choosing wisely, and cutting out the rest.

And maybe, someday, I'll see fewer commuters vacantly poking around on their devices, looking for something they'll never find, and instead focus confidently ahead, grounded in the belief that they can make a difference, and that their technology will be the trusted friend to get them there.

And maybe, someone bring back that old ringtone, I think we all miss it a little bit.

Robbie Klein