The Design Support Curve

A really interesting question came up during our mentoring session last week.  The question was: How much should we pay attention to design templates?  As with many of my answers, it began with “it depends”.  It depends on who we’re designing for and how novel the technology / design is.


Let’s look at the innovation adoption curve:

When something is new, only a small group of people are using it.  As a technology becomes more mainstream, more people adopt it and eventually it’s old news by the time “laggards” catch on.


Innovation designers interpret the curve a little differently:

Depending upon how innovative your product aspires to be, you either have a little or lot of uncertainty in your design theories.  So, the big question is how does we as UX designers fill the uncertainty gap?  With another chart.

When innovation is so new that only the innovators themselves are using it, the UX designer has to start prototyping different design ideas and testing them.  Learn why some fail and follow your successes.  Use your knowledge of HCI and psychology (and a good dose of gut instinct) and you should arrive at a design that makes new technology truly innovative for people.

By the time early adopters are using the innovation, you should start seeing some design themes emerge.  Like a great affinity diagram, designs begin to cluster together and you can just make out what makes each one different.  Nothing is fully baked yet and you’re still relying heavily on prototypes and user testing.  But at least there are some examples out there you can learn from.

When the early majority of users start using an innovation, design trends have emerged which you can use as guideposts.  Still, doing a good dose of user testing will help make sure that your product is in alignment with your particular audience.

It would be easy to assume that the late adopters and laggards receive zero innovation by the time they arrive on the scene.  This would certainly be the case if we liked the status quo or didn’t lay awake at nights wondering how to make things better.  Yes, there is always work to be done and it’s our job to uproot tired design and run it through the cycle again.





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