What can UI designers learn from a baby’s face?

In the presence of a cute baby, you would be hard-pressed not to smile even on your worst day. Have you ever wondered what it is about them that melts your heart; ever thought about possibly capturing this cute-factor in your user interfaces?

Cute baby

Spare a moment to really look at the picture of the baby above and then look at this guy:

Patrick Wilson

By now you must have felt the different ways your body responded to the two pictures, even though the two people may be total strangers to you.

So, what is it about the faces of babies that makes us smile, or gives us the yearning to interact with them? Ted White, my lecturer at the time who later became my mentor taught me a valuable lesson in one of his lectures when he said, “you can’t create a user experience, but you can create the situations that can enable the user experience you desire”.

Being a budding user experience designer, that statement shook my world- I had to learn more, I had to know how he came to that idea. Where that journey took me is an article for another day.

Today, Ted’s statement makes a lot of sense and I will share the few characteristics I presume prime total strangers to smile at the sight of babies they don’t know.

# Innocence is captivating

We find new people a little harder to trust, we remain cautious until we have ascertained that they will not hurt us. This kind of feeling is absent with children because we know they won’t hurt us.

Applying this to the interface:

–       Interfaces should take the blame for things going wrong and assure the user that it is safe to engage with them.

–       User interfaces should never seek more effort/information then what is reasonably comfortable for the user. Ever heard somebody say: “what do you want from me?” You’ll rarely hear that said in a pleasant tone.

# Small is cute

Being less harmful, babies are also small and thus appear more vulnerable and therefore people are somewhat drawn to protecting them. This draws you closer.

Applying this to the interface:

–       As little, yet as much as necessary. This is the mantra of minimalist designers. Minimalism can be understood as a design philosophy where the simplest and fewest elements and content are used to create the maximum desired effect. And so were babies created; as such our interfaces should have no obstacles between the user and the experience we are laying the foundations for.

# Babies’ guards are low

Babies are forever handing out olive branches; as long as you don’t present a threat to them- a baby will accept you and acknowledge you in kind.

Olive Branch


Applying this to the interface:

–       There is a never-ending debate in the usability circles/forums regarding “intuitive” interfaces, one side arguing that nothing is intuitive and the other camp surprisingly arguing that a nipple is the only intuitive interface and that everything else is learned thereafter. Being aware of this debate (regardless of your camp) is important because UI designers need to be aware of the learned things that users already know so that we could make use of interface metaphors to reduce the learning curve of the user interface, in effect lowering our guard.

# Strong emotions are contagious

Babies cry and yell in joy at the top of their lungs, they share all their emotions indiscriminately.

Applying this to the interface:

–       Be passionate about your message and remember that a great interface is selfless, does not draw attention to itself and is devoted to serving a specific purpose for the person using it.

–       Find the right tone of voice for your interface and stick with it. Among other contributing factors to choosing your tone, the most notable is determined by how you want to be remembered. It is about crafting the personality to go with the look.

What other things have you found in your world that light up your soul? Share them with me on Twitter @uxtshepo and we can draw more parallel UX discussions.

Make love, art and live free

Tshepo Lehutjo


What are you doing on Mandela Day?

“Following the success of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations in London’s Hyde Park in June 2008, it was decided that there could be nothing more fitting than to celebrate Mr Mandela’s birthday each year with a day dedicated to his life’s work and that of his charitable organisations, and to ensure his legacy continues forever.

The Mandela Day campaign message is simple: Mr Mandela gave 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity. All we are asking is that everyone gives 67 minutes of their time, whether it’s supporting your chosen charity or serving your local community.

Mandela Day is a call to action for individuals – for people everywhere – to take responsibility for changing the world into a better place, one small step at a time, just as Mr Mandela did.”

Source: http://www.mandeladay.com

Following the iconic leader’s admission to hospital and the conflicting reports that have followed regarding Madiba’s health, we’d like to take this opportunity to focus on what Mandela Day is all about; celebrating life, and using your life to improve someone else’s. There is no better gift than giving. Whether it is your time, your knowledge or even just a couple coins you have stashed in your car’s ashtray to the beggar at the stoplight. The act of giving, and seeing how you have positively impacted someone’s life, even if the contribution feels small to you, is even more rewarding when it is done with the right motivation. And not just on a personal level.

On that note, let’s give some attention to ‘Social Responsibility’ in Corporates. Most big corporates have a social responsibility obligation. To keep the Karmic scales in balance (and to keep government happy), they give back to specific charities or non-profit organisations they have identified that align with their core business objectives. According to the CSI Handbook, South African companies spent R6.9billion on corporate social investment (CSI) in 2011/2012.?

 While it is perfectly acceptable for a company’s business objectives and CSI strategies to align, the corporate investment agenda musn’t be too narrow. If there is a lack of balance between business objectives and community needs, the value and meaning of CSI is minimised. It is always best to invest in a long-term program that provides sustainability, rather than a numbers-based initiative. A little bit of integrity can go a long way. Especially in today’s world where, thanks to the power instilled by social media networks, the customer really is king.

Consumers can become much more aware of companies’ activities and more vocal on social media platforms. They associate strongly with companies’ brands and values, and are more outraged when they feel they have been let down or misrepresented. The best way for a company to launch a social initiative that is perceived as genuine is by using their talents to give back, or focusing on skills development within their specific industry. 

Even though there is a need to understand and appreciate the business return on development programs, the key to doing it right is to find the balance between the two, where you are actively and authentically contributing to your community with business benefits as a bonus, you are more likely to see a meaningful, memorable and long-term impact.

 So what are you and / or your company doing this Mandela Day? Have you successfully identified your community’s specific needs and giving back in a way that will actually make a difference? Or will you just be dropping extra silver coins into the SPCA’s collection tins at your local supermarket till?