Tragic Design | Jonathan Shariat

Summary of: Tragic Design: The Impact of Bad Product Design and How to Fix It
By: Jonathan Shariat


In the book ‘Tragic Design,’ Jonathan Shariat explores the impact of bad product design on users and how to avoid costly mistakes. Packed with case studies, this summary provides insight into how poor design decisions can lead to tragic consequences and the importance of adopting a user-centric approach to design. The book emphasizes the ethical responsibilities of designers, the effects of impolite technology, and the role of accessibility and inclusivity in design. At its core, ‘Tragic Design’ encourages designers to prioritize user needs, protect users from harm, and understand the importance of good design in promoting positive user experiences.

Design and User Experience

Good design enhances users’ experiences while bad design can harm them. When designers prioritize business needs over users’ needs, they often end up with poor design. Design must protect users from bad design, even when clients prioritize speed or cost. A code of ethics can help designers avoid tragic errors like Jenny’s case, where a badly designed software affected a cancer patient’s treatment. As the gatekeepers of technology, designers have a responsibility to ensure their work aids users and avoids emotional harm, exclusion, injustice, or frustration.

The Power and Responsibility of Design in Technology

Designers play a crucial role in ensuring technology functions correctly and benefits users. However, bad design can lead to disasters and harm. Companies must take ownership of their design decisions and not objectify their customers. This is exemplified by various case studies like the Therac-25 machine, which caused radiation overdoses to patients due to a confusing interface. Another example is a commuter ferry crash due to a complex control console. Programmers can avoid such issues by creating “quasimodes” that remind users of the mode they are using. Overall, prioritizing users’ needs and ethical excellence can benefit companies in the long run.

The Impoliteness of Technology

Technology is becoming increasingly impolite, with software putting its needs over users’ needs. Interruptive pop-ups, excessive updates, and lazy tech that demands users perform tasks all contribute to user aggravation. Additionally, self-centered technologies take up valuable resources without user knowledge. In light of this, the values of polite society should apply to the digital realm, with designers placing user needs first. Ultimately, the author argues, impolite tech drives away users and hinders progress in the industry.

Polite Technology

Polite Technology emphasizes obtaining user permission, providing clear choices, and respecting user preferences to avoid patronizing or rude communication. This approach involves clear instructions and a thoughtful communication tone, enabling users to choose the best options for their needs. Additionally, users can select when to action security updates, thereby promoting autonomy and reducing potential harm associated with erroneous changes. Ultimately, this approach aims to prioritize user satisfaction by embracing respect, autonomy, and choice.

Beware of Dark Patterns

Dark patterns refer to designs aimed at deceiving, misleading, or confusing users. These patterns come in different forms, including bait-and-switch, fake content, forced continuity, and friend scams. They trick users into agreeing to something they didn’t want or collecting payment information and charging them without notice. Such tactics may be tempting, but they are unethical and damage business in the long-term. It is crucial for designers to educate their employers about these patterns and their negative impacts on users’ experience and business profitability.

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