June 24, 2015
The Utility/Delight axis

utility_delight.png
I've been thinking about utility vs delight a lot lately. A couple of things sparked my thinking:

  • Steve Jobs famous statement about Apple's ambition to 'surprise and delight' users.
  • A eulogy for Danish designer Jacob Jensen, who designed many of B&Os iconic devices, described how he critiqued his own work: 'Not surprising enough'.
  • Dropbox just redesigned the company's android-app - "We aspire to be as invisible as possible," says the lead designer

There's clearly something going on, and it impacts my own life and work directly. Whenever I produce something, it's mostly at the utility end of the scale - which is fine, and a point of pride, and all - but somewhat lacking in the surprise+delight department. My intuition about delight and utility is that there's a tradeoff going on. When you're being delighted you're not getting utility (unless you're playing games or doing drugs) - but I wonder if that's true.
I'm wondering if utility and delight are at odds with each other when it comes right down to it. Is delight essentially about attention, or are delight and attention independent quantities. Does anything even exist off the dotted line in the diagram?

I'm trying to extend myself a little bit up that axis - making sure to keep things just playful enough that they are also pleasant to use, instead of just, you know, useful.
Focusing purely on utility ends up being a problem for the utility as well, since you're probably going to need to delight some people before you win them over with utility.
On the other hand, you definitely don't want to be surprised by your plumbing. That is clearly the main point of plumbing.