Have you ever seen a game or website and thought, “Wow, that looks amazing. But what do I do?” Amidst the clutter of text or perhaps the overly minimalistic style, you as the user are at a loss for how to interact with the tool.
Design is arguably one of the most interesting and creative industries out there. As a game designer, I get to make things up out of my head and then have other people play through my ideas.
The downside of this creative freedom is that it’s easy to get sucked into the depths of designer myopia (i.e., nearsightedness), in which you start designing things for yourself rather than for the end user. It’s quite a common phenomenon, and we’ve all been there.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve replaced text instructions with what I thought were much cleaner illustrated instructions or the times I’ve made a puzzle easier or harder to suit my personal play style. Failure to explain what I perceived to be obvious parts of my designs have often resulted in confused or frustrated users.
As this Smashing Magazine article writes of web designers, “[designers] see typography and rounded corners where normal people just see websites to get stuff done on.” In other words, there’s a fine line between design and function. When designing, we need to take into account the end user’s experience, rather than focusing purely on our own design wishlists.
So what do we do about it? Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy prescription for design myopia. However, the easiest way to alleviate the issue is to continually playtest. The best way to polish the user experience is to observe people actually using your product. You’ll often find holes in your instructions or lulls in your gameplay that you might otherwise miss.
When working with a product day after day, it’s extremely easy to lose sight of how a new user might approach your product. Designing in your head is a great way to start, but as soon as possible, get the idea out of your head and into people’s hands. They’ll poke holes in your idea and sometimes make crazy suggestions, but ultimately, your product will be stronger for it and more in tune with what all those “normal people” want.