OpinionGood design, bad design
Good design, bad design
July 15, 2017
July 15, 2017

Last May, I attended an international conference called User Experience Philippines (UXPH) 2017: Design For a Better Philippines. For two days, Bonifacio Global City was host to around a hundred different professionals coming from diverse fields, as developers, graphic designers, psychologists, marketers, and government officials all came together to talk about “UX” or “User Experience Design”. At its core philosophy, UX design or “design thinking” is all about making solutions that not only work, but work for the user. This concept applies for virtually every field that solves problems, from computer science, to politics, to medicine.

One of the workshops in the event was a design sprint simulation. In a design sprint, a team of people take a problem and design a solution for it. While we were being divided into groups, our proctors had us recount an instance where we experienced bad design—poorly made, unintuitive solutions that made you scratch your head rather than made you happy.

On this note, it is important to distinguish that design does not pertain to how something looks, but to how something works. One example of bad design that all Lasallians can relate to is the MyLaSalle (MLS) and the Animo Sys systems. At their very core, they were created to solve problems, like the need for automated enlistment and an online information system. However, they seem to cause more headaches than solve problems. Yes, they work, but they do so at the expense of time, energy, and user satisfaction. In design thinking, this is a prime example of bad design, which usually translates to bad user experience. Ultimately, the goal of design thinking is to create a good user experience by coming up with a solution that is effective and easy to use.

As the crowd kept pitching their bad design stories, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone in the room shared the same sentiments about each other’s stories. After the group discussion, we then proceeded to pitch ideas on how to solve these problems, and commence our design sprint. At this point, I thought about two things. One, if everyone had the same sentiments about these poorly designed services, then why did we still keep them? And two, if there were this many people with good user experience ideas in mind, why weren’t we using them?

Bad design is everywhere in our country. Bus drivers cause traffic and hog the road mainly to compete for passengers to reach their “boundary”. In this example, the boundary system is bad design since it doesn’t put designated stops for the buses to dictate their fare, which allows them to stop anywhere they want and cause traffic. Even though the boundary system was created to solve the need of a fare matrix among public utility vehicles, it unwittingly causes more trouble than good.

While most bad design examples only cause inconveniences and headaches, other cases of bad design turn solutions themselves into new problems. Take taxis, for example. They were implemented and regulated as a business in order to solve the problem of navigating around the metro. However, these days, taxis are usually mentioned on the bad side of news stories. Most of us have experienced taxi drivers who refused us because they “wouldn’t be able to get passengers in our destination”. Some people who do manage to get on a taxi get their trips cut short due to the driver refusing to go any further, citing traffic as an excuse. Other concerns that people complain about are broken meters, abusive drivers, and bad car conditions. In this case, the taxi that was supposedly a “solution” turned into a “problem” in itself.

While UXPH cemented this “design viewpoint” in my life, where I see things in terms of good and bad design, it also taught me that most of our problems wouldn’t even exist if we employed more design thinking. Design thinking is clearly something that is taken for granted in our country. We are a nation who loves quick results. More often than not, we prefer band-aid solutions that immediately give results over long term solutions that usually take a while to plan, and give results much later.

The problem with this is that, while band-aid solutions do work, they are often victims of bad design. A lot of companies in the Philippines would rather choose a substandard system or service just to save money rather than get a better one that costs more. While these services might work for their customers, it doesn’t save them from bad user experience later on, and leads to poor customer satisfaction.

Design thinking could’ve saved us the frustrations that we experience today. If buses had explicit stops and followed schedules instead of being a free-for-all business where drivers chased passengers for boundary, EDSA probably wouldn’t be as congested. If only from the very start we took a step back and considered the design implications of the systems we were putting in place, we wouldn’t be experiencing a lot of the problems we do today.

Our country needs to employ more design thinking in its thought process. Rather than relying on quick fixes, we must always consider taking a step back and designing better solutions. If we place user experience and the concept of good design into our nation building philosophy, we would save our future generation the trouble of cleaning up after our bad solutions.

One thing that struck me in UXPH is the wealth of design thinkers in the citizenry. The government should tap into this pool of people when designing legislations in order to gauge if the solutions they propose are effective or problematic in the long run. Companies and businesses should hold design thinking as an integral part of their production process, ensuring customer satisfaction and good user experience. Individuals like you and me should take design thinking into account, and see the world in terms of good and bad design, allowing us to unmask hidden problems and devise new, creative ways of solving old ones.

While most of our solutions work, they don’t always work for the user. Always take design thinking into consideration, because more often than not, there is a better way to solve the problem.