Usability in common objects

One thing you pick up when you start having to design things on your own is a keen sense for details - all of the tiny parts of an object that make it pretty, and easy to use. A good test for this is to pick up your iPhone, open it to any screen and try to observe all of the gradients, drop shadows, bevels, fonts, and rounded corners that make up the pixels on the 640 by 480 screen. If you tried to design something with the exact same shapes but without the subtle effects, you would probably wonder why the Apple one looks so much better. And the effects are hard to get right - it's easy to go overboard on effects and end up with something hideous. Take, for instance, a basketball jersey, which is a pretty simple object - it's a shirt, with letters, numbers, and a color. But there are a surprising number of rules about a jersey that make it a more usable object. At a very basic level, everyone on the same team wears the same color jersey, so it's easy to identify which players are on your team. Traditionally, the home team wears white, and the road team wears a dark color. Why? In the old days, the road team might not have a chance to wash their jerseys between games of a road trip, so wearing dark jerseys would help hide the stains. Another feature of jerseys is that a team's dark jersey will usually feature the name of the city or university the team represents, whereas the home, or white, jersey, will feature the team's nickname. This is because the team wears the white jersey inside their own gym (where everyone knows the university or city name), but for the road team, the more relevant piece of information is the city or university name. A third principle revolves around numbering, where each sport has different rules based on how numbers are used. In high school and college basketball, players' numbers can have at most two digits, and each digit has to be between 0 and 5. This is so referees can use their hands to report a player's number when she commits a foul. In soccer, the players on the field traditionally wore numbers 1 through 11, where the number indicated the position of the player on the field, with 1 being the goalkeeper, 2 and 3 for the outside fullbacks, and so on. (Fortunately, rugby still follows this tradition). And of course, the numbers should be as big as possible, so people can read them. So even in a pretty simple object like a jersey, you can see a complex set of rules develop to make things easy for people that use them. If you were asked to design a jersey from scratch, it's unlikely that you would have covered all of these use cases, which is why it's important to prototype, test things on real users, and then iterate.

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