Digital Product Design

17 May 2020

I watched the first season of Abstract on Netflix a few years ago when it was first released. It's a really fascinating series about design — in its broad definition — illustration, digital, industrial, photography, painting, etc.

A second season was recently released, and I'm slowly watching the new episodes.

The one about “Digital Product Design” is, obviously, particularly interesting to me. I've extracted a few highlights below.

Ian Spalter in “Digital Product Design”:

When I start a new project, the first thing I do is to define the problem, to understand the “why” of what we're trying to do and what is the thing we're trying to solve for?

See also this article entitled “Great PMs don’t spend their time on solutions” by Intercom, and this quote by Marty Cagan:

Fall in love with the problem, not with the solution. […] It's far too easy to fall in love with your particular approach and lock yourself in prematurely.

Ian Spalter:

Your stove has a UI.

So what conventions are out there in the world that you should take advantage of? You don't want someone to think too much about heating a pan. But then, sometimes there are opportunities to improve things.

Maybe it's about adding options that make sense.

So, I have a toaster that has a button that says “A bit more” on it. It literally says, “A bit more.”. Totally get why you would need that, right? 'Cause that's… that's part of the user experience of making toast.


Now, as a designer, there are costs to that, because now you added a new button. Is it worth it? Is it actually valuable? Is it something that people use, or is it just sort of superfluous, you know, and just, like, maybe sell some toasters.

That's all part of the experience, thinking about the conditions and the context. And then, how do you work within those constraints to make that task as easy and pleasurable as possible?

Ian Spalter:

That idea of creativity being born through constraints is a powerful one.

Robbie Gonzalez:

If you've ever been scrolling through your Twitter feed or your Instagram feed, you've noticed you don't hit the bottom. That's a relatively new feature, called bottomless scroll.

Aza Raskin:

Which I feel like I have to forever atone for. When I was thinking about infinite scroll, like, the thought was… I, as a designer, have failed if I ask the user to make a choice they don't care about.

So, scrolling already means “I haven't seen what I want, show me more.”

So, why bother having little buttons at the bottom that you click to show — show more?

I as an individual designer doing human–computer interaction will happily make an infinite scroll.

But if I'm thinking at this higher level, I would have known that that would remove the stopping cues, just like when I'm drinking a glass of wine. I stop drinking when I finish my glass, and I think “Do I want more?”. Here, we're not giving people the stopping cue.

And so it's literally wasted hundreds of millions of human hours.