It all started innocently enough.
We were in our weekly meeting late last month, when I sensibly suggested that Matt and Luke might like to fight to the death. Anyone who knows anything about Matt and Luke will know that they are both fiercely competitive, and I’d be lying if I didn’t go into this with my eyes wide open. Needless to say, they took the bait.
And so it began.
We decided that the only fair way to publicly prove once and for all who is the master of UX Mastery was to stage a debate, and what better platform on which to do it than our new community forums? So as not to be held accountable for any potential ill feeling from the loser, I let them choose the topic. It was to be ‘Which comes first: usability or delight?’ Reworded so as to be debatable, the final motion was:
‘We should design for usability, then add delight.’
Luke was the affirmative team and Matt the defensive. The heckling started immediately, along with my almost tangible relief at working remotely from another country. Luke’s opening statement was masterful. In one sweeping blow he defined his argument, introduced a strong analogy (albeit about baking), provided solid evidence (26 links in one post!) and called Matt names.
The basis of the affirmative argument was that for four important reasons, delight must be considered with deference to usability.
- Delight is best used with subtlety
- Delight cannot be used as the primary foundation for a product
- Usability is as fundamental for UXers as spelling is for writers
- Delight by itself does not make up for poor usability
It was at this point that I decided to turn the heat up with a bit of stirring while Matt prepared his opening statement. And what an opening statement it was! Kicking off with some not-so-subtle putdowns, he went on to label Luke a rookie and called him on his attempt to bamboozle the audience with the aforementioned array of links.
That said, his argument was nothing if not solid. In what Luke labelled ‘an educational rambling’ Matt picked up on the baking analogy and pointed out that humans are emotionally driven animals and it takes more than a cherry on a cake to make us want to eat cake. Introducing some examples of personal delight, he reminded us that delight is a core element to strive for when designing and used the following diagram to illustrate his point.
In a downright dismissal of the opposition’s star example, Matt said:
“This is a poor example that assumes that a delight-first approach would compromise on usability. It shouldn’t. We’re not arguing that usability should be compromised. We’re arguing that it should be considered after delight. The other way round limits the possibilities.”
A very important point, and perhaps key to his argument, in my opinion.
Wrapping up with a bad pun, Matt throws open to Luke for rebuttal.
And rebut he does. Throwing a quote back in Matt’s face with the claim that it will undermine his entire argument, he then proceeds to pick said argument apart, bit by bit. It’s a bloody display, fitting for a fight to the death, with a very clever reference to the input of a community member, in what I assume is an attempt to buy his vote. Luke’s rebuttal is a meticulously crafted piece of work, again broken down into key points, perhaps the most notable being that “delight is an over-delivery on expectations”.
At this point Matt, always the gentleman, jumps in and corrects a typo for Luke, before attempting to cut him down.
Reminding us that “delight is not a feature, it’s an emotion”, Matt goes on to introduce us to some basic psychology, namely Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Relevant? You be the judge…
It is at this point that I think he makes a mistake. Things start off well, with the death of the baking metaphor, but then he goes on to say:
If Apple had approached the portable music player industry with a “usable first” mindset, they probably would have invented a portable CD player that had a more intuitive series of buttons. Sure, it would probably have been a great CD player. It would have looked great. And it would have been perfectly useable. But they wouldn’t have invented an iPod.
I jump in and throw cold water by pointing out that just because something didn’t exist before doesn’t mean that its first incarnation wasn’t designed primarily with usability in mind. Perhaps not smart to take sides against your boss, but life’s too short for wasting time sitting around on fences.
In an attempt to wrap things up before there is any more bloodshed, I call for closing statements.
Luke comes out fighting and reminds us that if a UX discussion goes on long enough sooner or later someone will compare something to Apple and ultimately lose credibility. Harsh but fair?
Matt sums up with an absolute stroke of genius (which is reminiscent of a game of last hit) in the form of this quote:
An arrogant man will still feel immortal, even on his death bed.” —Unknown
In summary, the affirmative team believes that user needs are synonymous with usability, which helps us discover and innovate to design for a delightful experience. The negative team suggests that to design for usability before delight stanches the flow of creativity and therefore constrains design prematurely.
Now it’s time to crown the winner and that’s where you come in. We’re running a poll so that you can vote for the argument that you believe is most convincing. We’d also love to hear your comments regarding the argument from either side, so feel free to jump in, either here or in the forum thread.