Sunday, March 22, 2009

Data, Art, Design, and a big ID/IxD Success Story

Three events occurred, or were publicized, in the past few days that merit posting here and considering all together. First, an apparently widely-respected visual designer left Google using some strong language about his frustration regarding the design mentality there. I'll let you read his words to get your own impression rather than commenting directly.

You back? Ok.

To paraphrase somewhat, he tells a fresh tale of the decades-old battle of design based on data versus what some like to call "art". We in the Voice Interaction realm have had the same challenges and have often said in our little world that VUI Design is a "science and art". And while I have even held forth on that, I have been uncomfortable for the past few years with that way of characterizing it. One reason is that many of our language structure and wording decisions are actually based on researched and published linguistic and thought paradigms, similar to visual design choices about layout and color. Secondly, designing well is often an exercise in doing so within limitations and with compromises instead of letting one's expressionistic soul run free (That's a great thing for your painting or weekend band. Not usually so good for the business needs of your employer.).

Which leads me to the second event. OK/Cancel is a comic and blog by a couple of guys who took a hiatus from the end of 2007 to now and returned strongly with a great strip and good commentary on the ex-Googler and the data/art debate that fits nicely with my comments above and the article I wrote with Roberto Pieraccini linked to above. This is an area we in speech and all designers need to reflect on in order to truly begin the maturation of our practices, processes, and reputation.

Doing so will, I believe, lead to more of the third event. Thursday's NY Times ran this article in the Inside Technology section, A Tiny Camcorder Has a Big Payday. Pure Digital Technologies, the maker of the very popular Flip camcorder (audio warning) was purchased for $590 million by Cisco (About a 2.5-3x valuation as near as I can tell). To me, this is a triumph of good design. Cisco decided that a profitable company focused on simple, good products could add to Cisco's bottom line for years to come. While their decision was most certainly not all about good design, the philosophy of Pure Digital mostly is. This should serve as reinforcement and encouragement to all designers that combining customer focus, good design principles and practices with persistence and reading the market in-between the lines can and does work because success is success.

Good Design in 2009.