in Design

Why I’d Like to See the 37Signals Urinal

37Signals and Don Norman had a tiff recently, with the lads from Chicago saying they design for themselves first and the Don saying, essentially, That’s not design, Martelli. That’s masturbation. (Whitney has the links).

This strikes me as an argument for gentlemen farmers. What most of us experience most of the time, I was thinking recently in the men’s room here at my client’s office, is poor design. ‘Do I want to stand next to another man as he is urinating?‘ I thought, ‘Does the architect of the bathroom want that?‘ Of course not. Ideally I’d like the architect to design for me. But if I have to accept the design he creates for himself, that would probably still be a better experience than what some administrator has specified.

Update: Just heard Phillip Hunter from SpeechCycle last night who told a familiar tale. As a purveyor of interactive voice response systems, he made it clear the speech recognition technology isn’t the obstacle to improving these systems. And they have lots of great ideas for improving customer service like personalization based on your geographical location or your past calls. The obstacle is the clients. ‘Everyone knows how to talk, so everyone thinks they know the best way to design these interactions.

Perhaps what we need is not arguments over what design process to employ but rather better ways of dealing with clients. Everyone I know, despite differences in their process and philosophy, goes through pretty much the same client review cycle. Why not try something else? For example, grab a couple key people from the client and embed them in the design team in the design team’s environment.

  1. And if the architect were a woman? Despite our tendency to go off to public restrooms in groups, we rarely have experience with group urination. The whole spacing at urinals issue would have to come from, uh, ethnographic work. Although 37 Signals would have us believe that a woman could only design a urinal area that would suit herself.

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