Design Lessons from the Tooth Fairy

Lessons in interaction design can come from the most unlikely sources—your four year old daughter who has just lost a tooth, for example.

She had been wiggling her first loose tooth for a few days, and it finally came out last night. When telling my wife what she expected under her pillow in return for her tooth, she said in fine alliterative fashion, “I want dollars and diamonds. Cause I’m a girl.” The interaction design lesson? Know your audience and what they want and expect.

The tooth fairy, however, apparently has budget constraints. Supply of lost teeth is high and constantly being replenished, while demand for spare organically grown teeth is quite low. So the tooth fairy did not in fact deliver diamonds nor dollars last night, but rather two shiny quarters. What do we learn for interaction design? Customer requirements must be weighed against budget and timeline; quality design is just one of the elements of a successful project.

Finally, though she did not get what she explicitly asked for, my daughter was thrilled with her silvery coins. You see, “diamonds and dollars” were probably just the words she used to convey her desire for “something shiny and spendable”. Those weren’t her words, but it’s what she meant by them. The interaction design lesson: Customers do not always know what they need, or even what they mean by what they say. It’s our job to take requirements, clarify them, push back to the simplest design that meets those requirements—not to play the Yes-Man to our client.

Thank you, Tooth Fairy, and we’ll see you again soon.

(More design insights from the next visit of the Tooth Fairy…)

posted by Ted Boren on Wednesday, Jan 03, 2007
tagged with design, process, constraints