Copying in design

Over at Robert Scoble’s place, there’s a fairly standard and heated flame war between Robert, who claims that Apple has copied the Windows Media Center for its forthcoming iTV, and various Mac aficionados who point to Microsoft as copying Apple for lots of and lots of stuff. It has, of course, descended into the usual trolling, baiting and vitriol.

What the whole “who’s copying who” shows is a lot of ignorance about the way that design works and progresses. One of the points about design is that, with rare exceptions, it proceeds in increments rather than massive leaps. Designers look at what products are around, and what works and doesn’t, and attempt to improve on them. Good designers improve, bad designers just add features.

But there’s more to this than meets the eye. Design, and particularly usable product design, depends on utilising an underlying “design language” that the user can understand and so get to grips with quickly. This language can come from other products in the same category, or from other product categories. For example, many web pages put their search box at top right, not because it’s the best place for the design of the page, but because it’s the place that people have come to expect to find the search box.

Think about the number of tools that you use in a day. A computer, a television set, a mug, a cooker, a microwave, a magazine, a web page… all are tools to achieve particular ends. And all of them share design features with others of their kind (and often across categories) because having to learn a new “design language” every time you used a different tool would make things much, much slower.

Given this, it’s no surprise that products within the same category – in this case, media players – will use similar controls to achieve similar ends.

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  • http://www.bynkii.com John C. Welch

    Is it just me, or is Scoble gradually becoming more of a Dvorak, only with more whining. He’ll post a large amount of flamebait posts, pump up the temperature via deliberately ignorant responses, then a couple times a year, trot out his “Oh where is all the courtesy” post, and inefectively threaten to start deleting “not nice” posts because that blog is “his living room”.

    I like to tweak him, but honestly the dude’s becoming a rather crashing bore. His wife’s blog is FAR more interesting, because it’s not PR fakery and manipulation.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    I don’t think it’s your imagination. I’ve been reading Robert since well before his entry into Microsoft land, and in the past six months he’s become more and more irate about things, to the point where he’s basically trolling just to annoy some of the fanboys his posts can attract.

    I can kind-of understand what’s going on. Basically, he’s stopped writing for himself and started writing to the audience – and once you do that, you’ll end up where he is. But in doing that, he’s clearly enjoying blogging less and less, to the point where he has little anger-spats.

    It’s a shame, because from the odd emails that I’ve had, and from his early posts, I think he’s a pretty nice guy. But he’s been consumed by the blogging machine, and it’s not doing him any favours.

  • http://www.bynkii.com John C. Welch

    Yeah…that makes sense. Blogging has become his life really, and so he writes compulsively, but with no real point other than “I’m Robert Scoble, and you’re not”.

    This is kind of where I don’t like the blogosphere. I based my site on MovableType because of convenience, and the fact that I hate HTML and programming, not because of “OMGBLOGGING”. Anymore, too much of the “blogosphere” is sefl-congratulatory circle-jerking, and a mad race to be the first to post, accuracy be damned.

    But it gets less and less useful. Look at the lynch mob about HP. Her guilt, or lack thereof was immaterial, because the lynch mob was formed within minutes of the story coming out. Scoble’s headlines on it showed that, and his “Well how long do we wait for facts” reply to one of my comments. Her culpability, or lack thereof didn’t matter. People had a juicy story, and that’s all that mattered. In Robert’s case, he’s been guilty of that before, a couple of times with Microsoft co-workers, and the crow he had to eat there evidently made no difference. Hang first, question second, that’s his motto.