Death, Taxes & Product Design
Imagine you’ve been asked to design a way to make it easier and less stressful for people to start work with a new company. Or maybe you have an idea to improve the way a small business owner pays their staff.
Fairly normal design challenges right?
Well, almost. For each of those scenarios described above, there’s someone else who’s very interested – the government.
And the government likes things to be done a certain way.
Take tax for example. For the tax system to work efficiently there are a lot of rules and regulations that individuals and businesses need to abide by. The tax collection agency requires specific information like personal details and identifiers to be reported, correct and often on a deadline.
Designing in these problem areas can be challenging
Every law and regulation and compliance requirement exists for a good reason. However users (like employers) will usually view these as an additional burden, something that gets in the way of their typical tasks.
Big risk. Designers familiar with other problem spaces might be used to problems like a lack of engagement or general confusion. If end users don’t meet their obligations they could face financial penalties or worse.
In order to design the best experience, a designer should first feel very confident in understanding the requirements/or problem at hand. But here, it’s confusing. Tax is notoriously complicated and tough to get right.
As designers and product people it’s not possible to make sure the user does everything correctly. That bar is too high. There are too many scenarios, edge cases and permutations. The grey area between correct and incorrect is vast! The success state is hard to hit.
I’m familiar with user problems like “I want to zoom into a video so I can see detail” or “I want to be able to focus on a video with no distractions”… or even business problems like a lack of engagement. Compliance problems don’t sound like things that a user would express in their own voice.
Compliance is only the beginning. At the end of the day, understanding these requirements may get the check of approval from gov.. yet that’s really just the start of the design right. What is the experience? We have really just started the design process. So it’s really like a foundation… it’s additive.. meaning that its something extra needing to consider rather than just a different way of designing products..
How it might impact your design career?
Designing in complex space will strengthen your discovery skills. You will naturally need to be a strong researcher, facilitator and systems thinker.
Unfortunately, in a world where discovery takes on a critical importance, the user interface piece of the pie will have to shrink, and I would say when you are a junior designer you get less opportunities sharpen those skills like visual design and interaction design.
From the start of this year I’ve been writing daily notes in apple notes app. There is no goal, but I need to do it every day.
So far I have not missed a day. Maybe I should have waited to write this, but I feel confident I can make it to the end of the year.
Here’s what I do.
The title format for each note is
YYYY-MM-DD. That’s it.
Once the note is ‘full’, usually at the end of the day, I drop it in a folder called Daily Notes. It looks like this.
To help myself, I create the note for tomorrow right after, so there’s less barriers for writing.
So what do I write? Mainly garbage. I’ve almost never looked back at old notes. I treat them exactly like pieces of paper that I might sketch on throughout the day.
Notes within notes. Within a note, I may write down something that my swim coach said. I’d write that down to remember it, and then tag it within the note with #swim . If it was a more substantial topic, that would deserve its own note, but this way it helps me to build up lots of notes on lots of different topics I’m interested in or trying to learn more about.
I also enjoy the freedom to try out different things. In the past I had a gratitude journal, which was very structured. It asked you to write down 3 things that you were grateful for, and looking forward to. Useful, but started to feel like homework after a while, and I broke the habit.
Ignorance in kettlebell. I have no interest in swinging a kettlebell around. It sounds silly. The word sounds silly. It looks like something you’d seen on late night tv. No thanks.
You’re interested in strength training. You’ve done a few classes at the gym. You felt great afterwards. But you’re not convert. You look at some weights on Facebook marketplace. They seem expensive, and where are you going to use these weights exactly? In your tiny apartment? Nope.
After some nagging encouragement from a friend who tried it, and loved it, you buy the kettlebell. You get hyped up. Do a few swings. It’s really heavy. And that kitchen counter top actually needs a clean. Tomorrow! But it sits solemnly in a corner of your bedroom for a month.
You push yourself to do a challenge. About a 100 swings a day. It’s hard. You can never seem to find the time to do it, although it only takes 10 minutes or so. It’s work. But you start to like it. You film yourself and you realize how bad your form is. You read some articles. You watch some YouTube clips at 0.25 speed. You start to swing a bit more efficiently.
It’s now creeping into your identity. You make sure to always check it off your list. You feel bad if you miss it. I never read that Atomic Habits book but you’re pretty sure this habit has gone atomic. The kettlebell is your ally. Rather than lurking and rolling your eyes at online communities you want to chime in and contribute. My fellow kettlebellers.
I’ll stop here, because that’s roughly how I feel at the moment. And no, it’s not a metaphor, I really like swinging this cannonball around. But I’ve also gone through a similar cycle with many different hobbies and interests. And it’s usually here, at stage 5 where you start sewing the seeds of your own destruction. You start to bite off more than you can chew. You want more. Hey, I’ve already got a habit, let’s go bigger! So the challenge here is really to actually just ride it out. Stick with it and see where it goes. A habit doesn’t need to go exponential.