Snippets of good design
Issue 85: A collection of clever design decisions
Good design is often ignored and not for the reasons one might think. Snippets of good design are often invisible, being something you didn’t know you needed it. In the documentary Objectified, there is a feature with Jony Ive, former industrial designer and Chief Design Officer at Apple (AKA the a-loo-mee-nee-um guy). In this segment, they discuss the external battery indicator that is used to ship with the older MacBook Pros. It was a series of small lights that show how much power is left on your machine.
Ive said something in the documentary I’ll never forget: “An indicator only has value if it’s indicating something.” A statement so obvious can be profound at the same time. When the computer was off, the lights disappeared because of their design of them. This is what I mean by good design feeling invisible.
This issue is a collection of snippets of good design I've been thinking about recently and not an ordered list of the best designs of all time. I'm not going to Dieter Rams you with a list of what good design is. However, I’ll share attributes of good design I personally appreciate.
Anticipates what people are looking to do
Combines steps to remove friction
Has a high build quality and aesthetic integrity
Is a shortcut to customer goals someone's life easier
Is obvious over being clever
Contextual to the person and their situation
Snippets of good design
I’ll share five examples of snippets of good design, and consider it a personal curation on recent encounters, not a list of all-time greats.
B&O H6 dual cable connector
I prefer wired headphones over Bluetooth, primarily because it is horrendous. I cannot imagine what atrocities Harald Bluetooth did to have the technology named after him. It must be at the same level as whatever horrible thing Edward O’Hare did to have such a terrible airport named after him. My studio headphones are the B&O H6 2nd generation over-ear cans. Despite being several years old now, they are incredible. One of my biggest annoyances is when you have your headphones connected to your computer, and the wire gets caught between your hands and the keyboard. These headphones have an obvious solution: put the headphone jack on both sides—making them interchangeable. Not only that, I recently discovered you can daisy chain another set of headphones to share music with another pair of headphones—incredible.
Vercel's logo download on right-click
Have you ever downloaded the company logo on the website instead of going to the press kit? Vercel's website anticipates what you're looking for and when you right-click on it points to assets. Instead of right-clicking to download a low-quality image of the logo, the website will redirect you to a brand page where you can download the original assets.
Screenshot and annotate gesture with the Apple Pencil on iPad
I wrote a few years ago that I am a huge advocate of power gestures and they are not gating experiences. Power gestures are shortcuts that boost productivity for people who find value in them. The fact that you have multiple pathways to achieve something without forcing new comprehension for users is incredible—allows people to power up in their own accord. Apple is one of the masters of this interaction, giving people gestures that are learnable that can boost productivity without getting in the way of the primary way of using it. My favorite recently is how you can take a screenshot by swiping the Apple Pencil from one of the corners. You can take a screenshot, annotate, and save/share all in one interaction.
Netflix's autoplay trailer, and the ability to turn it on and off
We've all been in that state when you're at the home screen on Netflix's interface, spending nearly an hour trying to pick what to watch. Netflix's UI auto plays the trailer on select to give you a preview of the show. This is a good design, however, it can also be a bad design depending on the human interacting with it. Autoplay and looping media can affect people differently. For example, someone with ADHD might be overwhelmed by it. The great design is Netflix making it a setting an end viewer can turn on or off. Good software design allows customization and personalization.
There is an episode of South Park called Simpsons Already Did It, where nearly every aspect of the episode is mirrored by something The Simpsons already did in the past. You could say that with VIM. VIM already did it. If you're not familiar with a command palette, it's a dialog that appears often hitting Command-K or Command-P (as it is in Obsidian) to let end users search and select types of inputs and commands in the software. This provides an alternative to mouse interactions on the Graphical User Interface (GUI). A habit commonly found in developers, I find even myself as a designer that I try to limit the number of times I need to pick up the mouse to do something. If I can do as much as possible with keyboard inputs, it shaves a bit of time, each time, to increase productivity. I personally would love to see the command palette in more software.
Tweet of the week
Absolutely devastating. RIP Taylor Hawkins.