Why designers should be on a button budget

March 25, 2010

I sometimes wish I could put myself, the designers and our stakeholders on a button budget. Just like we’re already on a time and a salary budget, we should introduce scarcity on another limited resource – brain cycles in the heads of our users.

Introducing a scarcity would make … (continued)

(continued) … us think twice about adding elements to a design. And enjoy removing them.

But wouldn’t a good designer do this naturally?

I think anyone with a design background would. However, as any working designer would know, design is far from the only thing happening at the office, and input is rarely limited to colleagues and the guy at the opposite desk.

The stakeholder meeting. Everyone’s KPI is at risk. There are concerns. We add. Links, dialogs, helpful text. The additions, sadly, are really compensating for us not fighting hard enough to come up with something so simple it’s almost screamingly obvious to the user. Obvious beyond what a usability test could disclose.

How do we determine the initial budget size?

Good question, not really sure. I think we would find a reference interface we all like and think is simple, and then calculate its price.

Learning from industrial design

I sometimes wish we were under the same constraints as our colleagues in industrial design. Every time they even think of adding a text label or a button, the industrial designer has to think of cost. In the physical world, a simple engraving or print and having it translated into five languages would collapse an average digital budget.

Imagine for a moment the same low level of constraints (cheap, that is) in the physical world as we have in the virtual world. Adding readouts, buttons, even micro projectors is as free as adding an HTML button.

Now, apart from being quite cool, admitted, this coffee cup would probably not be as fun the third time you get one. But the designers and their stakeholders just thought it would be cool, and some customers ask about the temperature, and it does happen that they confuse the lattes with the frappuchinos, and, the branding group wants the logo larger than the cup, so why can’t we just install a free micro projector?

LEGO designers are on a brick budget

Going back to reality, former LEGO designer Bjarne Tveskov told Engadget in an interview a few years back

But there would always be a fixed “brick-budget” one had to stay within. That was often the hardest part; If the model was over budget, one had to simplify and sometimes strip all the little cool extras of the models. Each brick has an internal price, and there was a whole department that did nothing but calculate the prices of all the prototype models we designed.

So LEGO designers and interaction designers lives may not be too far from each other. Thank god.