Design and Purpose

This viral TikTok by @viral_actor demonstrates with humour how designs and purposes don’t always coincide. The narrative of the clip is that the woman on the left designed a shape sorting toy. Metaphorically, we could assume that the design is the user interface for some software application or game.

The tester, in the right frame, ‘tests’ the interface. One way of testing is to provide the tester with a purpose and little else, as this is how much people will approach a new product. It’s quite likely that the instruction was to put the shapes into the bin. The design, on the other hand, was supposed to pair a unique avenue for each block shape (in a particular orientation) with each opening through which to insert the shape.

Let’s be clear, the user who inserts the blocks ‘incorrectly’ relative to the design is doing nothing wrong (morally or kinetically). The problem is that the designer had an intent in mind and didn’t consider full domain of possibilities. This interface design can be improved to solve for the unique 1:1 piece-hole relationship. In fact, the testing feedback provides input for an engineering—or interface design—solution.

The tester, having been giving the task of putting blocks in a bin might be justified in entertaining the belief that the best design might have been a lidless bin—or that a single hole would have sufficed.

In this case, the video producer is employing humour, so we can ignore that an adult is not likely to be the target audience would probably be infants or to test persons for visual-spatial perception. If this is the case, the tester group should necessarily be infants. Below, we can see a similar problem, again using humour.

The parents are overjoyed to see their infant distracted by the hanging mobile. Little did they anticipate the enduring trauma it would commence.

Most people with experience in the design space have seen many of these design faux pas. Here are some design-experience chestnuts. Notice the common thread. It’s also good to remember our maths lessons: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line—as evidenced axiomatically by the hypotenuse is the square root of the sum of the squares, and so will always be shorter for any right angle (and even this slightly obtuse rendition). Thanks for that, Pythagoras.

Next, we have evidence that a designer created a barrier against bicycle traffic. To be fair, it did deter bicycle traffic from that path, but somehow I don’t think that was the sole intent. I’ll also imagine that the designed footpath route is as well travelled as the alternate path.

Design versus Experience
Please Use Sidewalk

For the image above, it seems that the path traversers (users) should put up their own sign, but for now they protest performatively.

Below, we see an intentional and mostly effective design meant to keep bicycle riders off of this footbridge.

None Shall Pass

One final note is to illustrate the difference between user interface design (UI) and user experience design. At teh top, we see two catsup (ketchup?) bottles. The traditional design on the left opens at the top and would not balance well upside down. On the right, the bottle opens down, and it sets well in this orientation. (To be fair, I’ve stored the top-right bottle upside down in my fridge, so perhaps a visual signal, say a narrower top, might obviate this habit.

At the bottom, we see the experiential result of the interface design: The age-old challenge of getting the product out of the bottle on the left versus the instance on the right. It also appears that the narrow top of the left design was intentional to slow the flow, so perhaps widening the aperture may have countered that requirement. The righthand design does have an even smaller aperture, but the egress is broader until that point, and the orientation must compensate for it.

We’ve also seen this design carry over to shampoo bottles.

So there you have it…