A Windows phone design article by Paul Thurrot, summarizing a "ask-me-anything" thread in reddit, reminded me about something that easily goes wrong in design: the design itself becomes more important than the product or medium it's applied to. Meaning, that more work goes into sustaining design as an activity; instead of treating it as an integrated part of making a competitive product.
What kept popping up throughout the article, was the need to differentiate Windows phone from others, through Metro's unique visual and interaction design (mainly focusing on application side though). This resulted in design importance raising out of proportion, disturbing the actual product work (make a great product). The focus was on finding a striking and novel design (too much), instead of making a relevant alternative to iOS and Android.
Alternative can mean being different, but it doesn't have to. A product that's just different for the sake of being different, is bound to have a design overdose. The only way to deliver an industry-breaking products, is by not designing it for the industry (remember what Apple did when it entered the smartphone market). That alone requires you to focus on problems that the industry tries to hide. Too much design will just make things worse.
The mobile industry has a significant ability to resist changes. Look at any usability studies. They all basically state that Android and iOS have reached the pinnacle of touch screen interaction. To put that in some perspective: they say that majority of desktop interaction patterns (the way you use mouse and keyboard to do things) are just as usable on mobile devices, as they were 40 years ago. Nonsense.
Usability studies like that show how amazingly well people adapted to our messy past with computers. Studies can always help to spot problems in both design and implementation, but the they tell nothing about our potential, our hopes, dreams or what we'll do tomorrow.
So, at the end of the day, those studies tell that the industry doesn't want to be broken.
"To go against it (industry) you need to earn it. You need to be far, far better." Being different for the sake of difference, is not enough.
With Metro, Microsoft experienced the hard way what happens when you put in too much design, at the expense of end user value. It failed to be relevant.
Thanks for reading and see you in the next post. In the meantime, agree or disagree, debate or shout. Bring it on and spread the word.