Intelligent Design, Dumb Users?

A little while ago, a designer by the name of Jens Meiert asked on his blog: “How much intelligence does good design really require?

He explains his issue well by posing the following dilemma:

How would I design a door for people who don’t know what a door is? This means, is it legitimate to assume that people know the concept of doors? If it is, shouldn’t I expect the door to fail if I install it in a place that is frequented by people who don’t know doors?

This is the response I wrote in his comments.


The best designs are immediately understandable to its users. If I were designing a door for someone who didn’t know what a door was, I would create a door with no handle that could be pushed from the left side or the right side. Then, I would either have a sign that said “push,” or perhaps better, a hand print.

The real question here I suppose is do we know what a door is? Even simpler, what is a chair? Something you sit on? You can also sit on a box. Is that then a chair? If we create a solid box and market it as a chair is it then a chair? These are classic Greek philosophical questions with answers I do not know. But to use a chair we do not need to understand what does and does not constitute a chair—just that the object is sturdy enough to support our weight.

But when we design, we are not designing for everyone. We are designing for a particular audience whether that be web users, or for businessmen, or pregnant woman, etc. My point is that good design doesn’t have to be immediately understandable to everyone, just to the simplest of its core users.

How much intelligence does good design really require? None. Well, I suppose a basic understanding of the world… at least the ability to understand.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 at 10:00 pm and is filed under Philosophy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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