Victus Spiritus


Design Frameworks that Function Without You in the Loop

13 Feb 2010

Builders and makers know the seductive siren of force multipliers. Any time I can automate a task, I take the opportunity to do so. Tasks that require human clock cycles for each completed action are sure signs of a bottleneck (unless you're Amazon*). The manual labor tax can take many forms. A processing chain that halts and requires a careful choice to proceed, is a decision bottleneck. A pay wall for a service that can be replicated cheaper is another form of design tax.

The challenges I cherish are upfront design, end user feedback, and ongoing optimization, anything but monotonous busy work. These aren't random preferences, but "Mark optimal" design instincts driven by a lifetime of observation. A direct link between designer and user is best. The telephone game is all the evidence needed to illustrate the failure of communication, when many human interfaces exist between a customer and a maker. Signal noise between people corrupts messages between just a handful of nodes.

The Roles of Maker & User Overlap

Aspects of design are moving from makers to end users. The mass appeal of products and services is linked to the user's ability to customize the experience. The freedom to adapt an existing tool and tweak it just right, is becoming a requirement (the secret sauce behind open vs closed architectures). Communities where end users can freely share their modified designs, feedback value into the system (open source, hobby kit builders). The designers and "parts suppliers" endeavor to create more modular and interchangeable components.

Examples: Automated Business Systems & Hacking Code

Once you wade past the syntax soup of high level programming languages, structures and APIs you can get to the essence of design. Transferring an idea into a functioning prototype (no matter how asethically displeasing) is my starting goal anytime I code. Social coding is a form of metaprogramming where I can use open solutions, and work with others to make the leap from abstract to working prototype. But there are other hurdles between me and the illustrious goal of a functioning tool:

Crafting a web/application based information business is a similar but more involved challenge. In the business case I work with the existing startup community (open source ideas, and code). Information and monetization methods are leveraged to manifest abstract ideas into a solid revenue/growth machine. The major hurdles to constructing a healthy business are legion:

* A disturbing counter to the human bottleneck is the Amazon Mechanical Turk which has put into practice absolute commoditization of certain human intelligence tasks.