What’s the first thing that you notice when you look at this picture? Besides the fact that they’re crayons. There is something infinitely more important to our conversation. There is something that is at the absolute root of the user experience/user interface conversation that can be identified using these children’s playthings. Can’t figure it out? I’ll help.


Look at THIS picture and tell me, what’s the difference between these two? It’s not about what’s there. It’s about what’s missing. Now some would suggest that the crayons that still have their peel on them are unused while the other ones have been used, and that’s true. That’s absolutely true. But that’s the point. If you want to entertain a child for awhile, just give them crayons that still have the peel on them. They’ll get rid of them. And eventually, when they’re all done with the peeling, they’ll get down to using the crayons for their actual purpose which is to “work”.

What’s the point of this whole thing? Why am I mentioning this on a blog that talks all about technology and business? Well, the point is that crayons…are you ready for this… are just made wrong. Just. Plain. Wrong. Stick with me through this and you’ll see how this relates to technology. The piece of paper that wraps the crayon is designed for two major purposes. The first is that they keep our hands clean and the second is that they give us the name of the color. This is the purpose of the piece of paper that covers crayons. And yet, it is fundamentally flawed. 

First, clean hands. Have you ever watched a two year old peel a crayon? They have to dig their fingernails just a little bit into the crayon in order to peel the paper. Hell, I have to dig my fingernails into the crayon in order to peel it and I’m a grown man with (relatively) normal manual dexterity. It’s a hell of a lot easier to wipe some crayon residue from off a child’s hand than it is to clean under their fingernails. Trust me. Secondly, related to the clean issue, you are now left with a pile of small scraps of crayon peel and years from now you will still be picking those scraps out of nooks and crannies throughout your house.

Second, labeling. If you’re relying on that peel to tell you the crayons color, you will undoubtedly be frustrated when that peel is gone. If the label is the only way you have of telling you what to do, then what will you do when that label is gone.

I know. You’re still wondering what the hell this has to do with technology. First, getting rid of the peel. While kids might peel the crayon, this is not something they inherently like to do. It’s akin to an OCD habit. They HAVE to peel the crayon to get to the goods. So by supplying something that keeps their hands clean (temporarily) you are actually adding an annoying and unnecessary layer to the process. This is exactly in line with far to many web/software/app developers. Adding a fancy wrapping doesn’t change the product within. In fact, it just frustrates the user. Have you ever watched a kid NOT be able to peel a crayon. It’s not pretty. Have you ever seen a user unable to crack through all the pretty aesthetics and packaging of an app? Have you ever been that user? It’s not pretty, is it?

Labeling. I hate apps that walk me through all the things I can do with their app. You know the app I’m talking to you about. It has an overlay the first time that you use it that shows you the million different ways you can swipe and all the things you can click/tap/slide to make something happen. Number one, everyone (and I mean everyone) just plows through those “tutorials” because an app should not require a tutorial. So we assume that the app will be easy enough to use once we start playing with it. So, if your app is simple enough then it doesn’t require a silly tutorial. And if your app is so complicated that the user experience is ruined without a tutorial? Well, that’s worse. Your app is too complicated. Unless we’re talking one of the Adobe projects, one of the primary purposes of apps is to make things easy. Think back to the crayon, post-peel removal. If you didn’t know the color before, how can you possibly figure it out now?

Forget the peel. You’re wasting everyone’s time. No one wants a pretty interface that doesn’t work. No one wants to wade through the waters of pleasing aesthetics just to get to what they want to do. Is there a place for beauty in development and design? Absolutely. But let’s save that for part three.

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