Do we get carried away by Superficial design? - critique on FITTLE, one of the Ixda Award Finalist.

27 Dec 2013 - 4:59pm
2 years ago
4 replies
2202 reads

Hi IxDA Folks, 

I came across this healthy critique ( ) about the project FITTLE which incidentally happens to be one of the finalists of this year's IxDA awards... Some of the issues are thought provoking..

How can you design based on touch and shape perception for blind, when visually impaired people cannot discern shapes in isolation? Such a flaw or misunderstanding would clearly surface even in the basic user testing... so how come it went unaddressed? And can we design based on superficial assumptions of a special condition or should we design for the real complex reality? And more than all, as Ella rightly pointed out, how much time & effort should designers invest in promoting a first level idea when compared to deepening the idea in the first place?

So do you believe that design needs to be deeper than the surface?


31 Dec 2013 - 12:08pm
Juan Lanus

Yes and no. 

In this case, yes design has to be deeper than the surface (the other case is for purely decorative things).  

This is another reincarnation of the form vs. function dilemma. Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention) as Antonio Vivaldi put it by 1725, this is not a new issue. 

In IT (which is the field I know) every year a lot of millions of dollars are "invested" in useless applications. Burned.

This problen has a solution, which has a name: Requirements Management. It's about knowing what the users really need (and not what the users say they want).

After having found what are the real user's needs, it comes a huge design step which is the inception of the application that will fullfill said needs. This solution does not involve graphics design, it's functional, and is performed by FA's (Functional Analysts) or other pros capable of performing as FAs.

The functional design evolves into the interaction design, which is the implementation of the functionality devised in the former step.

This is also done in white, that is, without fancy CSS. Maybe wireframes, paper prototypes, or functioning prototypes that look like wireframes (dodging for now the likes discussion). 

All these steps are tested against the users. The functional design can be expressed through (lean, textual) use cases that can be understood and approved by the users. The UCs are the hinge that articulates the IT world with the normal people, and are not  replaced by user stories.

The UCs allow the app functionality to be kept abstract, the idea is to pospone the surface design as much as possible. 

These are, in part, the ideas of UCD (for User Centered Design) that lead almost always to apps that are ewlcome by the users and turn out to be succesful.


31 Dec 2013 - 3:14pm
Dave Malouf

it sounds like there are 2 pieces to the critique. 

1) is the critique of the awards for possibly (I do not know, but the article is insinuating) not doing their due diligence to rigorously understand the problem space enough to evaluate it properly.

2) Using that assumption as a broad spectrum critique of design culture in general.

I cannot speak to the 1st one though it is an important question. The 2nd issue, I have been noticing in my own work for quite some time. We are indeed a culture made up of people who love new & shiny. We live it. We are paid for it. And no matter how many times we hear diatribes of "don't just slap lipstick on a pig" and we try our best not to, our critical language is too limited to make design discernments except for 3 types: business success, usability and visual design. We do not have a critical language around the DESIGN success of interaction design itself and this has caused us to then leave the emotional reaction to the visual alone. 

One thing that makes this difficult is if a competition like the IxDA Awards receives some 300+ entries each with it's own domain of knowledge, can they be expected to fact check as Ella did the particulars of each and every study. Let's say it is only for the finalists. That is still some 30+ entries that make it through let alone the 80 or so that were on the "short list" across a judging panel that is limited in scale b/c of cost scoping issues of doing a competition like this one.

So let's say we can't do this level of due diligence, then what are we left to judge with? How do we know we're golden? What exactly are we judging when we judge "interaction design". I know I had this problem when I was first judging the submissions for the Student Design Challenge. Questions of What is IxD surfaced when an amazing group of students redesigned the basic cross-walk for Chinese cities? Not a single actuator or sensor of any type in the system, but it was system and behavior changing? I opted that it wasn't IxD (enough) to be judged against the others that did have digital intelligence and with it bigger complexity. I don't know if I'm correct or not, but I do know I had to make a decision. 

The criteria isn't public for the awards, nor are the individual judge ratings. It is a closed system and maybe that is why it is so succeptible to critiques like these (implicit or otherwise).

7 Jan 2014 - 7:05am
Janna DeVylder

Hi all,

The evaluation criteria for the Interaction Awards are public for all to see.

Each submission has the burden of demonstrating deep insights about the opportunity, audience of the project, the design process, and the impact of the project.

As a concept and student project, the jury has shown that they believe that to be the case for Fittle and have elevated it.

The author of the Medium piece stated here does not seem to be a real person (or we have not been able to find evidence of this designer at IDEO), and the message within is very similar to about five different emails we received from different people. Regardless, we welcome discussion around the work and encourage reflection so we can all look at our own practice of Interaction Design and see where we're going moving forward.


Janna DeVylder
Co-Chair, Interaction Awards


8 Jan 2014 - 7:19am
Tania Jain

Hi, I'm part of Team Fittle, and would like to share with you our research and understanding:

Tania Jain
Founder and designer, Fittle

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