Considerations 1: Intent of Design

When we think of product design, how often do we consider the intention behind it?

Intent: /in’tent/


1.    Resolved or determined to do something

    •    Attentively occupied with

2.    Law. The state of a person’s mind that directs his or her actions toward a specific object


Intent from the designer’s point of view is a state of determination to create something, to solve a problem, to raise awareness, or to birth beauty into the world.

When we look at intent from the user’s perspective, the user interprets the design by first drawing on their personal experience, and then combining that with their initial understanding of the designed object.  While an object may be designed with a particular user and use case in mind, the end product is not always viewed through the same lens as the designer.

Mix in deadlines and tight budgets with poor communication, and you have a recipe for disappointment.

The perfect example of this, something we get to experience everyday and something widely cited in design circles, is the design of an entry door.

Photo by  Alan Levine  CC BY 2.0 - This is a Norman Door.  

Photo by Alan Levine CC BY 2.0 - This is a Norman Door.  

There are many types of doors, and just as many ways to open or close them. It is a simple enough concept - the door should open and shut with ease - but the way in which a door is made does not always make it easy to discern how it functions.  

A walking person has maybe 3-4 seconds to recognize there's a door, locate the knob/pull/handle, then decide what to do with it before they have to break their stride.  (The horror!)

Without additional signage, a knob, a latch, or a bar could be both pulled open or pushed open. We’ve all experienced walking up to a door, trying to pull/push it, only to find out it operates the exact opposite of what we expected. Without any markings, signage, or verbiage relaying the specifics on the mechanics of the door, the user is left up to trial and error. This is not only frustrating, but it is the sure sign of a poor design.

So what can we, as designers, do to avoid misinterpretation of our products?

Don Norman, author of “The Design of Everyday Things”, says things should be designed in a such a way that users do not even have to think about what they are going to do with them or how they are going to use them.

He mentions two specific design principles which should always be considered when designers are creating objects for human use: Discoverability, which means the user should be able to discover how to use an object simply by looking at it, and feedback, as in the user receives a signal of what happened (e.g. a sound, a light, some signal of something happening).

He also stresses that designers should observe real people doing a task in order to create and develop a user-friendly design. Thoughtful observation of real people in every day life will help to shape the intent of the end product by influencing the designer to create something easy to use.

When we bring awareness to our work through observing the people around us, we become inspired by, and deeply connected to, the world in a way that enables us to design objects properly, with good intention, bringing joy, to the everyday.

- Catherine

James WetzelComment