Realism in Design

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One thing I train designers to do is to use realistic examples in all designs. Never use lorem ipsum for text. Never put in nonsensical data for a chart. Always try to make things as realistic as possible.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

Albert Einstein

As an example: Many years ago, I was presenting a dashboard to the CEO and some engineers. The CEO stopped me, mid-presentation, and told me that the pie-chart data added up to 103%. The whole meeting got derailed because of that. They started looking at every number and asking where the math was. I was totally thrown. From that moment on, I always made my charts add up perfectly.

103% – no bueno

In addition to charts, you want to use realistic data in your use cases. This includes volumes (how many of something will there be) and other cases such as names (how long will names be? what is a representative example of what it all means?)

Yesterday, I was working on an advanced segment rule issue with a designer. She had made a small, but important, logic error when thinking about behaviors in segments. To be fair, these things get pretty complicated. We walked through the problem together using a simple, but realistic, example.

Simple, but realistic. This might sound contradictory. I see that. It’s a balance. You want your examples to be clear and simple. But you also want them to be complex enough to exercise the use cases properly. Too much of either ruins the example.

So anyway, here is what we did to resolve the issue. The starter data is based on sales behavior. I mapped it into a spreadsheet like this::

TimestampBuyerPrice
Mar 1Glen$15
Jun 1Glen$100
Mar 1Alexis$100
Simple sales behavior data

Then I created two rules to demonstrate a key requirement:

Rule 1:
All people who purchased on Mar 1
AND All people who purchased WHERE price is $100

Results = Glen and Alexis
Explanation: Glen bought something for $100 and also separately bought something on Mar 1.
Therefore BOTH rules were true.

Rule 2:
ALL people who purchased on Mar 1 WHERE price is $100

Results = Alexis only
Explanation: Glen did each thing independently, but did not do them together. Only Alexis did.

The point of this example/rule is to show how the logic works. Before the example, engineers and even the designer said that Rule 1 and Rule 2 would yield the same thing. By making is simple and realistic, we could demonstrate how it works. Engineers need this kind of detail to build the right thing.

There are many variations on this theme. If your design has a place to write notes, think about how long the notes are and how someone would use it with alot of notes. Think deeply about your designs and how it would be used in the real world. It will make your products better and your engineers happier.

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