Sunday, 9 October 2016

The perils of bad design

There's a really important element to good design. It's one that might seem obvious when I point it out, and yet seems to escape a surprising number of designers. That important element is understanding how your design will be used. That's right, for a design to work well, it needs to work well when it's used. Pretty simple huh? And yet so many everyday objects fall foul of this.

A couple of days ago, LittleBear and I opened up a pack of cards. We'd already been playing Gin Rummy and Patience with a real deck of cards, but LittleBear found a children's pack we'd acquired somewhere along the line, and wanted to play with those. They had jolly pictures for the court cards after all.

Inoffensive enough at first sight...

It was only when we opened them and I had a proper look that I was filled with utter rage. Rage at the idiocy that would allow these cards to be designed, produced and sold. I've turned into Mean Mummy and informed LittleBear that we are Not Allowed To Play With Them. I can tell you're thinking they must be pretty outrageous aren't you? You're wondering if they have something strangely pornographic or perhaps racist on them? Nope. They are simply not fit for purpose. They have been "designed" by someone who has seen a deck of cards, but has never actually played a single card game in their life. Let me show you...

All the cards. Can you spot a problem yet?
I'm expecting BrotherBear and GrannyBear, as fellow card-players, to have a reasonable shot at spotting the issue here. For those of you who didn't have quite such a mis-spent youth* as I did, I'll show you what happened when I dealt a hand of bridge and fanned it out in my hand.

What cards do I even have?
It might now be becoming clear what the problem is. For a start, all the numbers are written in black. Not black for spades and clubs and red for diamonds and hearts. No. Black for everything. But worse that that, is that there are no suit-indicators below the numbers, except on court cards. So with 13 cards, I can only say with certainty that I have the five of clubs, queen of spades and king of hearts. The others? Could be anything. This is what I had to do to be able to see my cards:

My hands are not big enough for this game
A particularly egregious offender is the Ace, where you need to expose the centre of the card to find out what suit it is. Seriously, who would do this to the Ace of Hearts?

Black writing and no suit-mark in the corner
And, for the record, here's what that same hand of cards would have looked like with a proper deck of cards:

Clear, succinct, unambiguous, compact

That is good design. That is design that understands how a hand of cards is held, how they are used, what the important features are. The children's pack? It's a travesty, bearing a vague resemblance to a deck of cards. It can't actually be used properly. And there's no excuse for it. The manufacturing costs of printing a bad design are no greater than printing a good design. This isn't a case of costs being cut at the expense of functionality. This is simply a case of bad design. And I won't have it in my house. Sorry LittleBear.

* According to letters written by my mother, the trouble with playing pontoon/vingt-et-un/blackjack with me aged 4 was that I had a tendency to win the bank and was then terribly slow at dealing the next hand. Aged 4. I almost feel I'm letting my family down in not having taught my son to gamble before the age of 5. Almost.

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