Push vs. pull design


Design everything on the assumption that people are not heartless or stupid but marvelously capable, given the chance.

– The Internet and Everyone, John Chris Jones

For the longest time, I thought design was about assuming that people are “stupid” machines who don’t know what they want, and therefore need to be told how to use your product, and that those few who aren’t stupid are too busy to care.

This could be an appealing approach because it is an easy explanation of a design’s failure. People have limited attention, so you have a limited time to force something upon them they didn’t know they want.

But the more I thought about it, the more I felt this “push” approach was incredibly condescending, and actually in most cases ineffective.

The opposite approach is that of humanistic design, when you assume that people actually do know what they want, and your job is to reveal that to them in an elegant way.

This approach reminds me of Michelangelo’s approach to the statue of David.

In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.

Rather than pushing something on someone, you are pulling the best parts of that person out. You are finding the fundamental human behaviors that already exist in an analog form and building around them.

I think the best designers have the greatest empathy for the people they connect with.

When you think about design in this way, the design becomes much more appealingly human and naturally engaging. Perhaps this is what people mean when they talk about “delight.”

And most of all, people will probably surprise you with their creativity.

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared here and was written by William Peng.

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