Finding UX Wisdom With The Simpsons

We (royally speaking) often talk about good design in terms of how not to do something. It’s often very easy to look at a design and see what’s wrong with it. As we progress through our profession, it becomes easier to see things because we’ve witnessed a lot of, well, crap.

My friend & college Matt Wallens asked me a few weeks ago if I was interested in presenting at Interaction10. I said sure, but “What are we going to talk about?”

D’oh!

Somehow, in the time between that question and this post, we found ourselves researching (notice the lack of sarcasm quote marks) by watching hours and hours of The Simpsons.

Here’s the thing: Matt and I both love The Simpsons. Not so much over the last few years, but if you can be a Cubs fan, you can be a Simpsons fan. With all that history, and our zany ability to quote on the spot from the show in the context of any current conversation, we realized there was a wealth of cautionary tales dealing with bad User Experience in every season.

It was honestly more of a problem narrowing down ideas than finding them.

The Session

We’ve titled it: Embiggen Your Knowledge: How Cromulent Design Could Make The Simpsons Less Funny. Below is the session outline. The plan is to introduce each topic with an associated clip from the show, then talk in terms of, “Now what can we learn from Homer’s [insert disastrous idea here].”

The Simpsons has been on TV for 20 years, longer than many of us have been in the User Experience field. Although yellow and limited to four fingers, The Simpsons have been continuously ahead of their time as it relates to UX, by way of poking fun of it by doing things oh-so-wrong. Discover the lessons that The Simspons have taught us about the dangers of bad design, UX practices, and not standing in the way of a t-shirt cannon. This presentation (with lots of room for discussion) features case studies of some of The Simpsons’ questionable techniques.

And yes, we will watch clips from the show!

10 Questions to be Answered:

  1. What can go wrong when you let users design your product? (The Homermobile)
  2. Why is it important to establish success criteria before a study? (”Is my brother dumber than a hamster?”)
  3. How not to behave when you’re “behind the glass”? (What’s Wrong With Itchy & Scratchy?)
  4. Why you should understand the problem before paying for a slick solution? (Monorail!)
  5. How can you make customers happy by designing a very specific product. (Leftorium)
  6. How can you solve a complex problem with a simple solution? (Inanimate Carbon Rod)
  7. Why it’s OK to recognize (and go with) a better design. (Soap Box Racer)
  8. Can you re-purpose a niche design/product and make it sell? (Springy the Olympic Mascot)
  9. How soon should you show your design? (Dr. Homer’s Miracle Spine-o-Cylinder)
  10. When should you build and when should you buy? (CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet)

Since it’s a 45 minute session, we’ll crowdsource the list down to a reasonable size in advance of the event.

I encourage you to go to the Interaction10 site and comment on our proposal, even if you aren’t going to attend our talk or the conference. The more feedback we get, the more likely it will be (I hope) that our talk is accepted.

3 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    The Homermobile episode always hit a little too close to home for me. I would like to see a follow up post about UX Wisdom and 30 Rock hahaha think “Button Classic”

  2. Matthew Oliphant says:

    I spent the last 10 minutes trying to find a clip online of that scene. Can’t. So let’s just enjoy this one for fun:

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