Do I wash my hair with this?

Your design sucks

Sara S.
6 min readApr 30, 2015

Why design dissonance is necessary

Imagine this: You lean back against your seat after writing a long proposal at work and get ready to send it. It feels good doesn’t it? As you open your mail software and compose a new message, attach the file and add recipients, you count down the minutes before you can go home and get some much needed rest. It’s going to be a good night.

You spend about a minute or two trying to remember the email subject name to key into the search field, and you finally find it. You’re a little annoyed but shrug it off, no big deal. Then you click the ‘+’ or add button to add or edit recipients, checking them in your head, yup, everything seems good. You send the email and pack your things.

Out of habit, you remind yourself to recheck that the email was sent.

That’s when you groan, really loudly. Thank god you’re the only one left in the office!

Your proprietary email software has dialled your font down from ‘regular’ 12pt to a tiny 9pt and you fear that’s what your recipients are reading tomorrow. You consider re-sending a follow-up email with ‘medium’ sized font but are not sure how to phrase it. You’re already running late for dinner and decide to hope everything turns out alright in the morning.

On the way home, you forget to save something to your USB and decide to use your mobile phone to do so. It takes at least 20 minutes to go through the mobile version of your email because there isn’t a mobile version of the site, only you frantically zooming into the desktop version and making sure to click the right buttons.

You lament, why can’t everything be mobile-friendly the same way Gmail or Apple Mail is?

Digital pain is real

It’s a very good question with no obvious answer. Making something usable is time-consuming, making something enjoyable and usable is both expensive and time-consuming.

Justifying usability is often not just a long process of testing and seeing what sticks; finding an audience and converting them to loyal users is one of the main reasons to justify allocating budget and time for a project. Proving that a group of people are the right clientele is no easy walk in the park. It’s often the tiniest details that are missed out, a laundry list of personal pet peeves that make an otherwise seamless interface mildly annoying or frustrating.

However, even with mild pet peeves, we love something when it makes us happy while being useful. Loyal users come from an emotional perspective. That is when user experience goes beyond just usability to give meaning to a product we love. It’s kind of like having a family pet wake you up every morning by pawing your face for years and you live with it because you know it does it out of love.

That being said, there are times when some design solutions get so frustrating the only reason to continue using the product is because there is no other alternative. In this situation, it is imperative that developers listen to feedback and improve on user happiness. After all, why did users have to go through this design dissonance in the first place?

Note: Some of these apps may have updated to bigger, better versions since, and for that, thank you!

Facebook messenger goes through a barrage of A/B designs and incremental improvements every month, but one consistent feature has me and friends groaning each time it happens — pressing the ‘Like’ button instead of send. Once text is typed in, the ‘Like’ becomes a ‘Send’, which eases the friction of accidentally pressing the ‘Like’ before typing a message.

What justifies this ‘Like’ over any other reply?

Consider the importance of letting your Hangout friends know your location to the hippest party that your Skype friends aren’t invited to. By replacing a location option for other attachment options (and video!), Skype and Whatsapp have made it possible to be used like a persistent Snapchat alternative. It’s an interesting and streamlined choice for Hangouts to not have anything besides photo attachments and location available, but one could argue that the developers are helping you save your precious phone storage for more Google-approved apps.

Design Dissonance

This isn’t dissonance, it’s a usability disaster

So why so much dissonance? Is it all budget related? Is testing what people like before going live that much more work and expense?

An oft-quoted anecdote in the design community is that “Users don’t know what they want.” As mentioned, we use some apps even if they drive us crazy when we’re running 10 minutes late and need a location ASAP. We use them because they are the best in the market, even if they suck; they suck less than every other alternative available. Spend the GDP of a small city on research and most people will still tell you they love something they hate because they’ve learnt to get used to the friction.

It may seem counter-intuitive but sometimes just having everything working smoothly and as expected is not the key to keep your users active and engaged.

Design dissonance is necessary. When a design sucks, the only way left is improvement. It is hardly vital to listen to users’ verbiage, instead, see how they do things. Think of each time you had to learn a new skill — cycling, driving, painting, ordering food in a foreign country — the dissonance became a challenge; a challenge to overcome.

Why are we so captivated with being on top of things? We are all Pavlov’s dogs hoping for the treat and positive feedback adds value to our efforts.

We get used to the hurdles because it feels good to be smart enough to figure them out.

All that being said, a balance needs to be reached to avoid the biggest pain points that scare potential users away and small pet peeves that encourage users to challenge and improve on.

Usability and experience are best buddies that work towards overall user happiness. More often than not, cheap usability testing tools like UX Check is available.

It’s whether we as designers inform our clients that full-featured products are not always necessary and a small budget should not be a constraint to user happiness. As long as a product strives for frictionless usability, users are quite happy to show you what would make them happier, even if angrily.

Challenge yourself to convert them to happy and loyal users.

The next morning, your boss compliments you on the proposal, and you ask him if your reply text was readable. He smiles and tells you not to worry — he had his screen text zoomed to 120%.



Sara S.

Longtime traveller, UX explorer and chilli lover. INFJ.