Designing for the 1%

I guess it’s pretty common to come across software design whose main contribution is looking good in a screenshot or on a dribbble portfolio page. It’s a bit less common to find a design that which accounts for interaction yet still doesn’t seem to actually be, y’know, good design. This pretty yet pretty useless “redesign” of airline bookings is one such sighting.

The Hacker News thread echoes the same complaints I had when looking at the supposed problem and proposed solution to current airline sites: there isn’t a business case to be made for “I can’t decide on which flight to book because I can’t find out the weather of my destination city[1] right now.” When the hardest problems are indeed backend or engineering or business-related, imposing design to optimize for a tiny minority of users and workflows is at best superfluous[2] and at worst detrimental to the common use case.

What I also find a bit disturbing is how often these design explorations invoke the lifestyle marketing standards that Apple has set for its own marketing and brand. I get that the material is a romanticized ideal – full of vacation destinations and family photos along with musical selections from inoffensive bands and smiling models using the site/app/service as an extension of their perfect lives – but that’s actually a jarring detachment from the reality of 99% of us actually live in.

With designers and engineers increasing becoming a part of the 1% (not yet of the United States, but certainly of the world) and building for themselves, something like the Glass app for Tesla cars are as outrageous to us as a Nest thermostat is for…well, everybody else. Using the mighty hammer of design, everything begins to look like an ugly nail needing a fresh coat of visual candy and interaction optimization tailored to the most frequent travelers, the most powerful air conditioners, the most loyal Uber customers.

Maybe the reason I’m not planning a trip to Paris isn’t that it’s currently overcast and likely to drizzle.

Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)
  1. And woe to the traveller whose target city has more than one airport.
  2. Like that other design “s” word, rhymes with kill-morphism.