Las Vegas as a standard for user design

The best session I’ve attended so far at South by Southwest was also the shortest: a 25-minute presentation by interaction designer Dan Saffer called “Learning Interaction Design From Las Vegas.” Perhaps it’s because I just came from a visit to Las Vegas, but I found the analogy to America’s Sin City to be a strikingly appropriate as guidance for good design.

Citing Vegas’ remarkable success at appealing to its target audience, Saffer pointed to the Strip’s excellence at human factors design. “Vegas understands user experience,” he said, noting examples like carpet patterns that are designed to keep people within a building and ceiling painted like daytime sky in order to rob the visitor of a sense of time. He displayed a quotation – “Withholding judgment may be used as a tool to make later judgment more sensitive” – to illustrate the need for designers to suspend the urge to create designs that meet their own standards of beauty in order to build products that people want to use.

Examples: the extravagant buffet lines in Vegas casinos like Champion League agen judi bola terpercaya appeal perfectly to the overweight middle-American tourists that are their best customers. Wedding chapels that announce themselves in bright incandescent lights may offend many people, but they do a great job of appealing to their target audience. And hotel complexes like Paris allow customers to experience France without the inconvenience of dealing with the French.

In particular, he dwelt on slot machines as examples of a near-perfect user interface. From type so large that it’s readable by the legally blind to the more than 400 sounds that some machines emit to the tactile feedback they provide, slot machines are finely tuned to give users a satisfying experience, on average, every six seconds. Which is why, he said, they’re a bigger business that the four largest fast-food chains combined.

Saffer’s playful jab at designers was to discard their upper-middle-class tastes and just design for their users. He said one reason MySpace is so popular is that it provides a Vegas-like experience for its customers. In aggregating so many functions in one place, it’s the online equivalent of a Vegas casino complex.

If you’ve worked with many designers – and I’ve known some very good ones – you know that their Achille’s heel is a tendency to design what’s elegant rather than what’s useful. Saffer’s message is something more designers should consider. I couldn’t agree with him more.


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