Designing for least astonishment

Papa Shabani's The Beat Boxer

Only recently, I came across a Wikipedia page talking about “The Principle of Least Astonishment”. I was quite intrigued as to what it alluded and so decided to explore the tenets of it. We shall hence forth refer to it as POLA. POLA applies to user interface and software design, from the ergonomics standpoint i.e. the law or rule of freaking out your users the least.

A lot of the time, we are faced with systems and software that that does not match a user’s expectations or mentality, despite having seemingly skilled designers and engineers following the 12-factor app rules. This problem arises from a failure to design around a user.

To combat this problem, not only in the design of software but also solutions to social challenges, we have seen the rise of Human Centered Design in developing user experiences. With a user at the center of the design process, focus shifts away from user interfaces to the rhetorical situation of the information medium in development. This is the process we use to build and improve Akabbo, our localized crowdfunding platform.

We used the three elements of the rhetorical situation, Audience, Purpose and Context, to guide us. Our audience at the moment is largely Ugandan and is only getting started with online crowdfunding as a concept. Based off early user feedback, we have had to break down interfaces and borrow heavily from similar applications to which users are familiar, rather than the natural expected behavior from knowing the inner workings of the application.

Since we already new the purpose of the application, our next main focus was the context. Context was a tough one as a crowd funding platform can mean different things to different people. To put it simply, context is subjective. We however decided to narrow it down to a peer to peer fundraising platform for a Ugandan audience. On locking this in, our system started to evolve to meet the need of our users.

Good design is as little design as possible.

Dieter Rams

Besides generic functions, we had to add features such as offline fundraising. A number of users wanted to meet up with campaign creators and give them cash directly as adoption of credit/debit cards is still low. This meant that we had to capture these contributions as per creators’ demands. These contributions now add previously unseen momentum to campaigns. Thanks, in a great part, to focusing around the user.

Are you focusing on users in the development of your applications? Care to share your experiences?