Design Research

with Erika Hall

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What is the role of liking?

Erika Hall

Co-Founder of Mule Design, Author, Research & Design Expert

Lessons Learned

People signify their interaction by liking things.

Like is a useless word; it has nothing to do with behavior.

Hating drives more page views on the internet than anything.

Copying the surface of a successful company does not equate success for the imitator.

Even if users love it, your product is not successful unless it is competitive, profitable, sustaina


Lesson: Design Research with Erika Hall

Step: #5 Like: What is the role of liking?

Like is a very common word, and I think especially in this day were so many of a use Facebook, or systems that have copy Facebook and liking is everywhere. People signify their interaction by liking things.

People even in a business context, and even clients we will talk to will talk about liking or not liking a particular design or something. Like is a completely useless word because liking something has nothing to do with behavior.

If you like a particular design, if you're evaluating may be different interfaces or different options for your own business, and you say "Oh, I like that one. What does that mean?" You've got to get pass that to what problem you're trying to solve. Like, liking doesn't solve any problem at all. Just because somebody likes something doesn't mean that they'll do anything differently.

You might say you like a particular style of house, but that doesn't mean… I like a castle, I'm not going to buy a castle. I don't like something. People do plenty of things that they claim not to like. I watch TV shows that I'll say if you ask me, "Do you like the Newsroom?" I hate the Newsroom, but I watch the Newsroom, so that I can talk about it with my friends and talk about how much I hate it.

I'll give you an example, if you ask somebody like, "How do you feel about this?" I hate it. People hating things drives more page views on internet than anything, and so you think, "Oh, liking equal success." That equation is a total fallacy.

I think research is a misunderstood word, but it's a good word and it is the word. I think clear communication is a key part of all business and all design. It's much better to say, "Let's talk about what research is and what research means, rather than try to make up a new word," because people coining new words and coining new methodologies is very popular.

Again, that feels fun because you feel like, "Oh, I created this thing out in the world." I'm a lot more interested in looking and seeing what's out in the world, and understanding how to make that more effective and useful for people.

That's the position that I advocate for because it's really easy to latch onto a methodology or buzz word, and have that be the most important thing. It's like, "Why is lean or agile or failure," like, "Why is that what your most interested in instead of the business your building?"

A cargo cult refers to... There was a group of people in the Pacific Islands during the Second World War who were living there when a bunch of Westerners arrived with their boats and all of their stuff, and it was very exciting.

Then they left and so what the people on this island did was build, like, replica boats out of materials at hand because they thought that's what made the people come. This idea is that… the idea of cargo cult in design or in businesses is that if you create the surface appearance that copy, say you're, like, "Oh, Google does this and Google is very successful. So, if I just copy this interface the way that Google looks, then I will have the same success." It's really focusing on the externals. Like, you can see this a lot with Apple.

Apple comes out with a new design, and people copy the surface of it, and then they say, "Why am I not successful like Apple?" That's because they're not… Apple reached that obvious surface conclusion through a lot of work and a lot of understanding what would work for them as a business.

You can never just look at the end product from the outside, and say, "Oh, if I just copy that end product, then I'll have all the success which represents this huge system behind it."

Thinking about your competitors and doing that competitive analysis is a part of research. And the funny thing is that sometimes that type of research and organizational research aren't considered by what used to be called by user-centered designers as part of research.

What I'm really trying to do is to get people think of all the kinds of research and all the kind of questions that they need to be asking in order to be successful.

If you're using the traditional user-centered methodology, sometimes you might leave out things about competitors or about your business or about your organization and other things that need to happen to make this product a success. There are plenty of applications and services and products that were beloved by users that were not sustainable businesses.

That's because maybe the designers did research and they said, "Oh, we know this is a very successful design. Users love it and users will use it and they'll tell other people about it," but actually, it's a completely money-losing business.

That is an unsuccessful design. Even if people love it, even if people think it's beautiful, it's not successful unless it's competitive. It's not successful unless it's sustainable. So all of, asking all of these questions, that's all research.

That's the way I want people to think of it, as just a way of thinking and a way of approaching the world in terms of making sure that you have all the knowledge you need to build the business successfully.

Definitely being honest and making sure that you're not interpreting the answers to the questions you've found in a way that conforms to how you think of the world. You should always be striving to be proven wrong.

That's an uncomfortable position but that's, in terms of running a business. the most useful, it's like, "Prove me wrong." You want to be proven wrong quickly because that will save you time and save you money.

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