Breaking Things

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

This is all there is

Today I want to talk to you about why I am the way that I am. And by that I mean, why I care so much about experience design; about the experiences people have with things. Why I get frustrated by things that don’t work, or don’t work well, or aren’t easy to use. Why mediocrity infuriates me so much.

Is it a first‐world thing? An expression of consumerist entitlement?

I don’t think so.

I think it goes a little deeper than that.

You see, the way I see it, each of us has a tiny amount of time in this world and then we die. No white‐winged angels in heaven, no fiery coals of hell, no Elysium, no Tartarus, no Valhalla, no Summerland, no Fields of Aaru, no coming back as a butterfly or a cockroach. Nada.

This is all there is.

This short life.

And we spend a portion of that life — definitely at the start, but quite possibly also towards the end — unaware of ourselves and generally pooping our pants. So we have this tiny window of time when we are self aware. A tiny window of time, shorter than the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things, when we can do things, create things, affect people’s lives and make a difference in the world.

And if you see things that way, how precious does your time on Earth become?

Indeed, it is the most precious thing.

So is it going to kill me if something that could take 10 seconds takes 10 minutes instead? Maybe not there and then — although it might if we’re talking about a medical device or the control panel of an aircraft — but yes, it is killing me by wasting the very thing that I have the least of: my time here on Earth. My life.

If it was just that, it would be bad enough, but it is more than that. Take, for example, an app that gives you information about local buses: Surely it’s not a matter of life or death if the app is hard to use or doesn’t work reliably, right?

Well, it might be a matter of life.

Say I’m on my way to my daughter’s 5th birthday party and I miss my bus because the app misbehaves. I end up missing the sight of my daughter blowing out her candles; a very important event in her life and mine. So maybe it is a matter of life.

And maybe it is a matter of death.

What if I’m on my way to see my dying grandmother and I miss my bus because of this app? I can’t be with her in her final moments and tell her that I love her one last time.

We have to realise that a bus information app is not a bus information app: it is an object that affects and alters people’s lives: either for better or for worse.

It is the object that enables you to see your daughter blow out the candles on her birthday cake or the object that stops you from telling someone that you love them for the last time.

Objects have value not because of what they are but because of what they enable us to do.

And, as the people who make objects, we have a profound responsibility. A responsibility to not take for granted the limited time that each of us has in this world. A responsibility to make that time as beautiful, as comfortable, as painless, as empowering, and as delightful as possible though the experiences that we craft.

Because this is all there is.

And it’s up to us to make it better.

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