In praise of boring UX

I changed my network settings the other day, which in turn means that I have to update all the devices inside the house with the new SSID and password. I forgot one device to update, and that is the printer with the wireless connection setup. The night before I left for the university, it failed to print stuff and I was getting agitated until I realised what happened.

Updating your printer configurations for the second time onwards feels like filing your taxes every year — it’s an annual event, which by right it is supposed to come easy for you, but it doesn’t. So I looked online for how to update connection using WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), and this is how the manual, in all its myriad of buttons, looks like:

Instructions on how to set up printer network using WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup)

Evidently the method of trying to push multiple buttons doesn’t work, so before I grew even more livid I grabbed the USB cable and just set up the entire thing offline and before I knew it, the printer managed to spit out 50 pages worth of thesis chapters to be submitted the next day. It’s incredibly low-key, this USB cable method — which is why I am still holding on to my 2014 Macbook Pro — yet it still worked.

I came across this article today from Ryan Bigge of Shopify, in defense of incredibly boring UX, “…. clear and straightforward content, design, and code that solves key pain points. No surprise. No delight. It’s the non-design of IA Writer or the simple poetry of plain language.”

This paragraph resonates with my printer woes:

This problem isn’t unique to digital design. Here’s how you get extra hot water from a popular brand of dispenser: Press B twice. When orange light stops flashing press B, then A. Meanwhile, many push doors still have pull handles and most hotel thermostats remain incomprehensible.

In the proliferation of ‘unboring’ designs sprouting from the portfolios of Dribbble, designs without briefs, designs without consideration on the real business or societal problems, because, we don’t want it to turn out like the false missile alert case:

In an August blog post, Intercom’s Paul Adams criticised Dribbble by saying that “Too many designers are designing to impress their peers rather than address real business problems.” Adams argued that “the most important product design is usually the ugliest” and that designers should flood Dribbble with “whiteboard sketches, hand drawings, and back of the napkin problem solving.”

Multiple screenshots of weather apps on phones
“Hey Dribbble! You should take your umbrella today. Everything else here is just visual noise.” In other words, omit needless decoration. (Caption by original author)

On why boring UX works:

As Nielsen Norman Group UX Specialist Therese Fessenden argued in 2017, “A product must first, before anything else, satisfy a need and be useful.” That sounds obvious, but the obituary pages of Wired and Fast Company are filled the digital equivalent of chindogu.

“Only when a product is functional, reliable, and usable can users appreciate the delightful, pleasurable, or enjoyable aspects of the experience,” notes Fessenden. In other words, boring underpins delight —and sometimes boring is delightful. Popular apps like Pocket and Instapaper, along with Safari’s reader view, turn exciting into boring by rescuing content from the evil clutches of hyperactive design and indestructible retargeting ads.

Don’t get sucked into the technicalities of design — experiences matter, and/or rather, “do your best to serve users, not your ego”

Endless debates about indentations, rounded corners, and colour choices are UX’s version of the sunk cost fallacy. Nothing digital design can offer compares to the experiential joy of an Airbnb host in Dublin recommending the perfect nearby bar. Or a Chicago Lyft driver giving you a dozen amazing food and drink suggestions. Or cycling confidently through Portland at 11pm thanks to turn-by-turn instructions on a Pebble watch.

If you’re truly user-centric, admit that the most meaningful life stuff happens beyond the borders of tiny glowing rectangles. UX folks are brokers and intermediaries, not rock stars or ninjas. Your job is to swallow some boredom so people can live better lives.

Also, TIL chindogu.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s