Design Is Cool

I have a degree in design, specifically architecture. I don’t think about design very often, not least because it reminds me of my less than ideal work situation. But every once in a while, that part of my brain that was rigorously trained and developed by grad school will kick back on, and I’ll be fascinated by little details in a way that only a design nerd can understand.

One of the things I love about design is that there’s a reason for everything. If you look close enough, or think hard enough, you should be able to figure out why something is the way it is. And I find that comforting. I have a strong need to know why, to be able to articulate the methods and reasons behind something. I always have, even as a little kid. As such, not knowing why (or not being able to know why) can be a little stressful for me. And there’s so much in life that doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t seem to have a logic that can be understood. Emotions, for example. It’s something I’ve written about before.

And yet, despite all the things that don’t make sense in our world, there is also so much that is designed. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that design is so ubiquitous that we can’t help but take it for granted. Think about your favorite game, for example. Every piece of that experience was (hopefully) carefully crafted in order to elicit a specific response. If you’ve tried Giant Boulder of Death, I’m sorry for the death of your free time. But it, and other free-to-play games like it, can be a great example.

A free-to-play game is just that: free to play. But the developers want you to spend money. As such, there are multiple design decisions made to encourage the player to do so. Sometimes they are subtle, other times… not so much. In Giant Boulder of Death, the clearest example I can think of is the pre-roll spin screen. You get a free spin every 10 minutes, or you can spend gems (the games premium currency). Each spin adds upgrades to your run, like filling up the multiplier bar quicker or reducing the number of boulder-killing spikes on the map. If you don’t have a free spin, it takes a second or two for the “Play now” button to show up, while the “use gems to spin” button is there from the start. It’s very hard to ignore the reflex to push the first button you see, but gems are rare (unless you pay real-world cash for a virtual bag of loot).

Anyway, that didn’t go nearly as deep as I thought it would. In summary: design is cool. I find it comforting when I recognize the logic behind something. I wish more stuff was like that.