Nice design, but where is everything?

This was Originally posted last year on another blog, since closed. I thought it worth revisiting.

Last year I took a trip to the Gold Coast with my family. It turned out to be quite a stressful trip for various reasons, but that’s another story. The thing is, when you’re already stressed the smallest things can be really annoying. We were staying in a very nice apartment 18 floors up with an amazing view. The unit was furnished in a modern style and was very comfortable indeed. Having said that though there appeared to be no power points in the bathroom. Now this didn’t bother me too much, but my wife was not impressed. (It’s a hairdryer thing!)

To set the scene it helps to know that I suffer from the odd back complaint and have dodgy knees as a result of my years as a floor coverer in my youth. So my wife has me looking for power points in this fancy apartment’s bathroom, and I’m getting increasingly frustrated as they are nowhere to be found. I refuse to believe that a bathroom would not have power so I search on in vain. I look under the vanity, in the vanity, beside the vanity; not once, not twice … My back is starting to ache, my knees are creaking and my mood is heading south.

In desperation I call the conscierge to enquire about the whereabouts of these elusive powerpoints. Let’s face it, no man likes to ask for directions, particularly not for powerpoints! “They’re in the top drawer on the the left sir.” Well of course they bloody well are! The only problem is I’ve already looked there! I return to the bathroom and look in the draw. Nothing! I remove the draw and get down on my knees. Ah there they are, perfectly positioned so that they are invisible when the draw is open.

Makes perfect sense really. You can’t have something as practical and mundane as a powerpoint destroying a good design now can you? Forget the poor old user. Make them get on their hands and knees. Force them to make a support call. Whatever you do don’t make it easy for them! That wouldn’t be good design would it? &#@%!

From time to time I see this sort of thing on websites. In the interest of design the needs of the user are often overlooked completely. “Lets hide the navigation and let the user crawl around on their virtual hands and knees looking for it. Let’s give them no clues at all until they ring us in desperation! It’s like a game; what a great idea!” The only problem of course is that they won’t call. They’ll leave and go on to the next website on their search list. And they won’t be happy! But that’s ok, the design is awesome! Sure, some people will love it, and some will forgive the hidden powerpoints, they might even think it’s cool; but will the majority?

When designing, do you design for you or the end user? Are you trying to impress other designers at the expense of the customer? Do you question the design choices in context of the user experience? Are the design elements appropriate to the goals of the site and the site owner?

Food for thought…