Google recently launched some social functionality over the weekend. Chris Brogan has this to say about it:
"Google slipped a social network into Reader last night while I was sleeping. It’s simple, and unobtrusive, and gently prompts me to add more info, if I want. It’s about sharing your news- for now. But there it is. There’s Google’s simple, easy, I’m -destined-to-use-it social network right there.
Facebook, I hear bells tolling."
Has Google really launched a "people-driven" experience? Most of us would agree that the best experiences are designed with people in mind. But the fact is that it's still really easy to forget about the end user or person that you are ultimately trying to serve. Here's a few ways we can go wrong even with the best of intentions.
1. Usability Driven
Many of the popular 2.0 Web services have usability issues. Jacob Nielsen asserts that the space is in danger if becoming "glossy, but useless". But there are a few facts we need to come to terms with here. Applications such as Facebook, YouTube and others all have usability issues, but are highly desirable to the people who use them. Putting usability first, in theory will create a superior experience—but in reality it's only one factor of the total experience. You can have the most usable tool on the planet which seldom gets used if no-one wants to pick it up, play with it and talk about it to others.
2. Creative Driven
"Creative people" have a weakness. Sometimes we care to much about what our peers think and so if we see the industry awarding bright and shiny stuff that looks great but serves no real purpose, we'll be tempted to produce bright and shiny stuff that serves no real purpose--except maybe to win an award.
Advances in technology let us do lots of things and the fact is that many experiences are designed putting technology first. Why didn't Vista work out as Microsoft would have liked? I've never installed my copy because I've heard from others that the upgrade experience didn't go smoothly for them. This phenomena is called word of mouth. If technology doesn't fulfill its promise of enriching our lives then that's not a people-driven experience.
People-driven design starts with real people in mind. What they do, how they think, what their pain points are, why they like and dislike things and how they'll use what you create for them. The main purpose of personas is to help large groups of people from diverse backgrounds such as IT or Marketing empathize with the people they are designing for. Even if the folks at 37 Signals believe that "personas lead to a false sense of understanding at the deepest, most critical levels." they still design with people in mind—people who are a lot like they are. People driven designs don't end at the drawing board—they factor in feedback through the lifecycle of the design process, which nowadays is infinite.
Most of the successful designs that we use and love are people-driven more than anything else. Steve Jobs, wanted to create something of beauty and utility for a person—that person just happened to be himself. So back to Google, if what they did over the weekend is "people driven"—then it has a chance. Guess we'll find out.