Posts Tagged ‘#Product Design’

Whether the story about why horse-carts were forced to drive to the right is true or not, it was only natural that all who shared the roads with them would do the same.

The earliest cars – with little change from horse-carts, other than how the horsepower was delivered – would have been the first forms of mechanised transport to adopt that rule, created about a half century earlier.

Interestingly, the earliest rules for mechanised maritime transport, created more or less the same time as cars began to appear on the roads, were also referred to as ‘rules of the road’. Any guesses as to what direction ships swing to when on a collision course? Left? Or right?

Aviation rules were created within twenty years of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, or about half a century later from maritime laws.

It would take another half-century before they would consider thinking about aircraft colliding into each other in the 1950s, and it was only by the early 1980s that the TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) would be put in place – when two aircraft are on collision course, they both swing automatically away from each other. Besides changing altitude – one going higher and the other lower – guess which direction both swing to? Right!

As to the direction to which space-craft will swing, when on a collision course – your guess is as good as mine!





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The story goes that when the streets of the world started getting congested with horse carts, the inevitable fight would break out between carriage drivers when they came up against each other, and neither was willing to give way.

In France, the problem was so great that it reached the ears of Napoleon, and the Emperor decided to intervene. It was his decree that each carriage should stay to one side of the road to allow enough room for both to pass.

But to which side? Given that most carriage drivers carried a whip, which was also the handiest weapon when arguments degenerated, and given that most had the whip in their right hand, it was decided to place that errant hand furthest away from the opponent. Hence, all carts drove to the right of the road. And, when carts gave way to cars, the convention stayed.

Why, then, do the British drive to the left?

The logic of driving to one side of the road was well-appreciated on the other side of the English Channel. But then, the British were not ones to take orders from a French emperor!

(Of course, the reader must have guessed by now that this story was originally narrated in French.)


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How deliberate it was, one doesn’t know. But if the new look adopted by LinkedIn is inspired by Facebook’s UI, then it’s time to doff our hats to the team that took the decision.

There is good reason to congratulate them: There is only that much individuality that products can hope for, before their differentiation becomes a burden on ease of use.

Take the typewriter keyboard, for one. Back when your QWERTY (or AZERTY) keyboard was designed, the guiding principle was to avoid the keys bunching up together when typing. So, frequently-occurring letters were placed as far apart as possible (at least in the entrails of the machine), and generations upon generations have since learnt how to type with the strict placement that is followed to this day – be it on your smartphone, or your PC, on the Mac OS or on Windows.

In fact, so rigid is this placement that you dare not change your keyboard even when working with the same language – the US International keyboard is not the same as that of the UK standard, just as the French is different from the Belgian.

The keyboard is an example of a UI, adopted for the benefit of all. It is a norm imposed on the user, and such impositions are more common than we might think – be it maritime codes (that are also used in aviation, and now in road transport), or even the idea of licensing software, rather than creating new ones for each organisation.

Very recently, we also saw how a major online retailer chose to use the ‘Pinterest format’ for his mobile UI. Just smoothens the usage. At worst, doesn’t turn away the user.

To come back to the new LI interface (maybe I am being exposed to it late in the day), it can only mean more ease of access for the non-habitual user (the one LI would possibly like to attract, even if the regulars could be monetised!). All told, nice and clean and inviting.

But here’s the question to you: How many instances can you think of where external binds are imposed on your consumer? How many are forced (laws of nature, or laws of habit), and how many could you impose to make your product or offering more user-friendly or more cost effective, and hence more attractive?

In other words, what is the Superego, or that external constraint, that impacts your product, and your consumer’s choices? And how are you cashing-in on it?

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