The Design of Digital Forms : Looking for Negative Reactions in an Assembly

A form and their external forces

Alexander defines a form as the final result of a design process, a form is what we call now a “product”. In a more generic sense, it can be everything that has been made to solve something. For example, a signal at the side of a road has been designed to communicate something to drivers. The signal then is a form. But the form itself is not a solution, because a solution is the result of how this form interacts with their external forces, being the external forces the context in which the form lives. A signal at a road is only a solution if it exists in the context where is solving a problem. If this signal has been put at the right location and position, where the drivers really need to assimilate that information, so then the form interacts correctly with its external forces. Is this interaction between form and its external forces what makes something functional, let’s call that interaction an assembly.

Negative reactions

How do we know if an assembly occurs correctly? How do we know if our form is interacting in the right way with its external forces? Those questions are the equivalent to the common one: How do we know if our design works?
Many people try to find the right answer for the question, but the fact is that in the real world, are the wrong answers the most recognizable ones. Let’s say that we are decorating a living room and we put a bed in the middle of the hall, then would be obvious that the bed is in the wrong place. The reaction to that assembly has been negative and it didn’t take us too much time to know it. So, the key here is that if we are looking for shapping our form in the way that can fit perfectly to its external forces, then we need to start looking at the incongruences that every new attempt of assembly has as result. If we take every design solution as an hypothesis of a real solution, then we need to look for the things are not working well when that hypothesis is being tested.

The key of iteration in short cycles

Yes, if we are trying to find a solution for 2 + 2, testing any other number from 0 to 100 until we can reach 4, then it seems as a waste of time. Being ‘time’ the key element in the equation, it’s clear that we need to improve that aspect. How could we make this process cheaper and effective?

“Repetition of a mathematical or computational procedure applied to the result of a previous application, typically as a means of obtaining successively closer approximations to the solution of a problem”.

Now, let’s translate this concept of iteration to the relationship that designers have inside a team working in one product, if we picture that team working as scientists in a laboratory, then we have set the proper environment to make this process of finding negative reactions faster and effectively. How? Applying all these fancy concepts we’ve been hearing a lot: Design Thinking, Functionality Testing, Prototyping, etc. Or what I like to call: experimenting with possible solutions from different perspectives.

Do we need two key perspectives?

What we need to analyze of an assembly it depends on each product. But seeing the big picture, probably most of the forms need to be analyzed from two perspectives: 1) One in which the goal is to understand how well the assembly is solving the problem, maybe using quantitative metrics in order to measure the impact of the interaction between form and its external forces in a more “objectively” way. And 2) A more blurry one; The analysis of the user’s responses to the assembly. How does the user feels about the form and their relationship with it?.

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