Book Review - Design for Real Life

Over the last couple of weeks I have been made more and more conscious that just being aware of and avoiding dark patterns when building website and digital products is not enough.

We really need to think about the ethics of what we are designing and the harm our designs could cause. It is so easy to think about the golden path and the perfect user, but want about the edge cases who need our help the most.

Book on table.
Design for Real Life by Eric Mayer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher

I had just read Mike Monteiro’s article Design’s Lost Generation, before hearing Jonny Rea-Evans speak at UX Bournemouth 5 about how we should be looking for the stress cases in our work, and then I picked up Design for Real Life by Eric Mayer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher to read.

To be honest I had not realised it would be connected, but it was and they made some excellent points about what we should be thinking about when designing, considering the harm we could do.

This is not a book pointing the blame, but one that points out where a design went wrong then talks about how it could have been avoided.

The idea of this book is to get you thinking and to change your mindset. Most of the designs they look at are not a case of life or death. They are the sort of designs created with the best of intentions.

That brilliant feature that allows people to share their wonderful year which could upset someone who has not had such a great year. Maybe they lost a friend or family member. Maybe they lost their job. A prompt asking them to share their wonderful year is not going to make them feel good.

This is about including these stress cases in your thinking from the start, meaning we make better products. Maybe there is a better way to ask them to share their year, without calling it wonderful?

It was an easy and thought provoking read and I really think it should be required reading for anyone coming into this industry. It is certainly something that was missing from the General Assembly course I did. All the designers I know just want to create the best experience possible, but if you have not experienced something like this it can be hard to incorporate it into your designs. This book offered ideas on how to start thinking about things that might affect your users even if they have not affected you.

This is a must read for anyone designing or working on products that affect other people in any way.