Monday, August 10, 2009

Designing for the long-term

Nielsen’s Kindle 2 usability review made an interesting point:

“The usability problem with non-linear content is crucial because it indicates a deeper issue: Kindle's user experience is dominated by the book metaphor. The idea that you'd want to start on a section's first page makes sense for a book because most are based on linear exposition. Unfortunately, this is untrue for many other content collections, including newspapers, magazines, and even some non-fiction books such as travel guides, encyclopedias, and cookbooks.

So, the design decisions that make Kindle good for reading novels (and linear non-fiction) make it a bad device for reading non-linear content. Sure, Amazon designers could fix simple UI stupidities, such as the interaction design for a newspaper ToC. But doing so would simply apply a band-aid. To truly optimize the non-linear user experience, they'd have to completely reconceptualize the Kindle design. “

During the initial stages of product design, I’m curious to know what role the designer plays in understanding and designing for long-term goals. For example, Kindle is obviously focused on the book metaphor and specifically novels for now, but is their larger vision to encompass more forms of media and books in the future? If so, do designers need to understand long-term goals of a product, and consider these when producing the first version? How can designers create designs that are flexible enough to allow for changes in the future without starting from scratch?

Or if the Kindle PM team really didn’t consider anything beyond a novel, should UX have investigated different usage patterns and persona types and considered these during the initial design?

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