Explain user interface

I’m sure you’ve seen this quote before. It seems particularly popular on LinkedIn, where sharing it unlocks the I know what makes a great user interface, constantly name things right and perfectly position every button status symbol.

There’s this toxic binary view of user interfaces, where designing a UI has two rigidly fixed outcomes: good or bad.

And if that wasn’t enough, this binary view comes with the belief that good can only be defined by a user interface that requires no explanation, raises no question and somehow feels magical.

The reality is that for every UI, some parts are good and some parts are bad. It’s the distribution of good vs. bad that makes the experience.

Heck, I have to explain iOS stuff to friends and family all the time — a user interface designed by a company whose name is synonymous with simplicity and customer experience — yet most people will consider iOS a great mobile UI. Just don’t get into iCloud settings.

My opinion on Salesforce is that it’s horrible to use and that the design looks straight out of 2008. Yet, for many reasons, it’s a piece of software used by millions of people and there are some real Salesforce fans out there. Software is not just a piece of UI, you have to look at the whole experience.

We can all benefit from broadening our view on good vs. bad UI. When designers embrace a quote like “a user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good”, they’re basically reinforcing the belief that a design can be just one of two things: good or bad. And then, no wonder clients lack the vocabulary and have trouble getting into the details of what they like vs. what they don’t like, they’ve been given the green light to say ‘no’ based on first impressions.

I’ve never seen an industry being as hard on themselves as the design industry. It’s an industry where most will complain that their clients don’t get it and that designing something takes time and is full of subtlety, while constantly reinforcing the belief that the perfect, magical user interface exists. I guess you manage the expectations you create.