Experience Design

David Kadavy—

We get so distracted by the tools that we use, we sometimes forget about what we’re building with those tools. This causes a really common User Experience Mistake: “nerd-eye blindness.”

You get your head so deep into the nerd stuff—the technology used to create your experience—you lose sight of the experience you’re actually creating. This is “nerd-eye blindness.” If you want to create truly great experiences, you’re better off stepping back from the technology, and thinking exclusively about the experience you’re creating. Apple has always taken this approach, and Steve Jobs said it well:

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience, and work back toward the technology. [not the other way around.]”—Steve Jobs

A great place to see this in action is in shopping for clothes online. Clothes are one of those things that it’s really helpful to buy in person. (It’s also, in my opinion, a huge pain.)

Buying clothes online is tough because—besides the fact that you can’t try the clothes on for size—it’s difficult to get an idea of what the piece of clothing is really like. Clothing site designers with “Nerd-eye blindness” don’t make it any easier. Like this site:


You have to do so much clicking!

  • You have to click on each thumbnail.
  • You have to click to zoom on those thumbnails.
  • Even then, you don’t get much detail.
  • You can’t see the texture of the fabric, and you can’t examine the stitching or craftsmanship to any degree at all.

You can imagine the thought process of someone who would build this. It would go something like this:

WRONG WAY: “Well, we have a bunch of different pictures. We’ll make links out of all of those so they can click on them and see them. Then we need a zoom feature so they can see the pictures bigger.”

I’m sure there were all sorts of time, budget, and office-political constraints that contributed to them approaching it this way, but in any case the result is not a good experience. It almost makes going to the store a worthy alternative.

A better design thought process:

RIGHT WAY: “You know how when you’re in the store and you can just walk up to the clothes, touch them, and take a closer look at the fabric? The process is so fluid. We should make the experience like that.”

Gilt is an online shopping and lifestyle website. They have exclusively sold clothing on the Internet from their inception. So, it would make sense that they would innovate on that buying experience.

The experience on Gilt is much more sensitive to what an ideal shopping experience should be like. They think about the experience more like this: The result is so much more pleasing. The big image is populated each time you hover over a thumbnail, and when you hover over the big image, you get a gigantic close-up of that image. You can actually see the texture of the fabric, and the details of the stitching.



Mousing over the large image brings up a huge detail of the clothing.

Check it out for yourself >>

(Gilt even makes trying on clothes as easy as it could possibly be with free return shipping on most items, and a reusable shipping bag for easy returns.)

Clear The Fog of Your Nerd-Eye Blindness
Next time you’re ears-deep in some code, or a PowerPoint presentation, or any kind of technology, do yourself a favor, get a comfortable chair and a bubbly TopoChico, grab a Moleskine notebook and close your eyes. Really imagine what that experience could be like aside from all of your technological constraints.

Once you’ve done that, then you can think about whether it’s technologically feasible. Not everything you dream up will be possible, but you’re sure to get fresher, more insightful solutions.