Designing with Intent

by Luke Wroblewski May 28, 2010

An effective product design balances several deliberate forms of intent. If the intent of the user, the benefactor, and the designer are not aligned -things can quickly go wrong.

The intent of the user drives usability, efficiency, and utility requirements. People have to be able to figure out how to do what they want with a product. The intent of the benefactor determines the resource constraints and opportunities that ultimately impact how a product is made. Someone needs to invest time, effort, or money to create a product from which they envision a return. The intent of the designer establishes the product's point of view: how does it deliver on its promise.

In many cases, the end user, benefactor, and designer are three different individuals or groups of people. But in some cases, they could all be the same person. Regardless, the intent of these three (sometimes opposing) forces needs to be aligned.

Focus only on the intent of the user and you have an efficient set of interactions devoid of personality and aggregate fiscal or altruistic value. Focus only on the intent of the benefactor and you may optimize short terms gains over long term relationships with users (driven by efficiency and emotional ties). Focus only on the intent of the designer and you'll have a product with strong personality (through the conviction of its presentation and interaction) -but at the expense of ongoing utility and return on investment.

When all three forms of intent are in concert, great products emerge.