Making "stuff" useful
Postings on Peter Merholz’ blog and Idblog that I’ve commented on have sparked off a train of thought in my head: the art of making stuff useful (as semantically neutral a statement as I can make it).
I’ve been pondering this for a bit: my thoughts are partially related to Lou Rosenfeld’s attempt at an all-encompassing image of how different fields relate to one another (I'll link to this when I can remember where on his site it is), but much more to my own position where I do a bit of Information Architecture and design, a bit of editorial work, some graphic design, some usability (and very amateur psychology and ethnography) along with business strategy etc.
Sometimes it’s difficult to relate each discipline to the other, but I feel that the common denominator is “usefulness”. I’m not trying to set this out as a new discipline, more as a connector, a way of thinking about the other things. It might seem like a reduction ad absurdum (and maybe it is – commonality is often reductive as menu items often show), but I like to think of it as a mantra in the back of my head: is this useful to the end-user, is it useful to the business, is it useful full stop (what’s the use of it?)?
Richard Buchanan kind of hit a similar note in his essay “Good Design in the Digital Age” in the book Used – Browser 3.0: The Internet Design Project when he stated:
”Qualities of usefulness, usability and desirability play a central role in good design for websites and all digital products. But there is one final step to turn them into useful tools of product development: discovering the proper balance of all three qualities for a particular product and the people who use the product.”I’d extend this beyond “three qualities” and user/product demands, but it’s essentially my point. I could extend the analogy further, as I was considering an essay-length posting, but brevity is king, so I’ll stop here.