Would you trust this ATM?

Would you trust this ATM?

My office is located in downtown San Francisco and the surrounding neighborhood can get a little sketchy. Once in a while my route to the office takes me past this ATM machine. Each time I walk past I wonder, who in their right mind would use this thing? Then I remember where I am and keep walking.

Based on what you see, would you tust this ATM? Probably not. And yet there it stands. My guess is that this ATM machine functions just as well as any other. You may want a friend to act as lookout so you don’t get jumped during the transaction, but it likely dispenses 20s just as well as the next ATM.

This ATM stands at the corner of a very broad intersection with freeway off-ramps and on-ramps cutting in every direction. It’s not the kind of place you want to wander around and there’s a good chance you won’t find another ATM for blocks. No doubt this works in favor of the ATM actually getting used despite it’s appearance. But imagine if there were a nicer-looking ATM right across the street or right next door?  How often would it be used then?

Okay, so what’s the point? Unless your customers are desperate and have no other reasonable alternatives, design matters. A lot.

Unless your customers are desperate and have no other reasonable alternatives, design matters. A lot.

If you’re drunk, hungry and need some cash for tacos, you will probably take your chances and deal with it. The Internet used to be a lot like this. People were desperate for solutions and happy to have a product that worked. Whether it looked nice and behaved well wasn’t often relevant. It got the job done. But today there is no shortage of companies chasing a few central ideas and there isn’t a lot to differentiate most of these products and services at the feature or technology level. That’s why we see so many companies scrambling for design talent.

Right now, there are so many bad experiences out there that being NOT bad can set you apart. But not for long. Not only does design matter, details matter. It’s not just about making your product look pretty. You need to nail the interactions, you need to get all the little things right. Increasingly, you’ll need to be building products to the level of things like Path and Flipboard or you just won’t be able to compete.

Are we in a Golden Age of Design? It would seem so. But to be sure, there are plenty of companies out there with design talent that is not being fully or properly utilized. Plenty of companies hiring designers to “make it look pretty” instead of participating in the product definition and development processes. Plenty of designers frustrated at the inability to get ideas from paper or prototype to production. In order to succeed going forward, designers, product leaders and developers will need to work more closely than ever and focus on delivering high quality design with an attention to detail.