Saturday, 7 February 2015

Designing: the details and the big picture

I was at a meeting this week discussing developments to the NHS Choices site. This site is an amazing resource, and the developers want to make it better, more user-centred. But it is huge, and has huge ambitions: to address a wide variety of health-related needs, and to be accessible by all.

But of course. we are not all the same: we have different levels of knowledge, different values, needs, and ways of engaging with our own health. Some love to measure and track performance (food intake, weight, blood pressure, exercise, sleep, mood: with wearable devices, the possibilities are growing all the time). Others prefer to just get on with life and react if necessary.

We don't all choose to consume news in the same way (we read different papers, track news through the internet, TV or radio, or maybe not at all); similarly, we don't all want health information in the same form or "voice". And it is almost impossible to consider all the nuanced details of the design of a site that is intended to address the health needs of "everyone" while also maintaining a consistent "big picture". Indeed, if one imagines considering every detail, the task would become overwhelmingly large. So some "good enough" decisions have to be made.

I am very struck by the contrast between this, as an example of interaction design where there is little resource available to look at details, and the course that my daughter is doing at the moment, which has included a focus on typographical design. In the course, they are reviewing fine details of the composition and layout of every character. Typography is a more mature discipline than interaction design, and arguably more tractable (it's about the graphics and the reading and the emotional response). I hope that one day interaction design will achieve this maturity, and that it will be possible to have the kind of mature discourse about both the big picture and the details of users, usability and fitness for purpose.

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