The Ying Yang of Your Engine

I recently argued that I don’t really care about an aeroplane’s engine and that I only cared about the experience I have travelling on it.

Some people argued with me that the engine is very important and without an engine the aeroplane won’t fly.

Allow me to elaborate my thinking with the example of a road. When you’re building a road, engineering is of utmost importance. You need to know how much material needs to be poured to what depth in order for it to sustain the burden of x number of vehicles of y weight, travelling on average at z miles per hour.

That’s not something that you can wish away or replace with – well, this tarmac feels nice under my bare feet, it’s good to go.

However, that’s half of how a road is used and there isn’t one standard method by which you’ll paint lines or put up road signs. You need to factor in how people respond to information cues and what they will do with that information. If you want vehicles to slow down, you can put speed limit signs, or paint lines closer together to give the experience that the car is moving faster than it is. You may put up a sign saying there’s a school or hospital nearby, or that there are deer on the road. All of these will vary depending on what kind of road it is. You wouldn’t put a school crossing sign on a motorway (freeway)

In much the same vein, we can’t have good security products without solid technology. But equally, we need good design to maximise the effectiveness of the technology.

The rules and methods for solving both halves of this equation are different. Sure, maths, reasoning, engineering and logic can create the best engine, the best road, and the best cyber security product. But psychological tools are what will create the user experience – otherwise we will end up with lots of great technologies that will sit on the shelf collecting dust.