Have you ever heard of the Bridge to Nowhere? I think most of us have; if you haven’t, you will momentarily.

I recently discovered the Button to Nowhere. Have you ever had this happen while using a software platform or a mobile app: You click on a button that seems clearly and intuitively labeled, fully expecting it to do one thing and, instead, it did something else? Or, maybe worse, it did nothing?

My experience was the latter. I recently tried a new software platform and had an interesting experience. I was viewing some graphics on the page, when I saw a button at the top that said, “Email.” I clicked it, thinking I was going to be able to email the information that I was looking at to someone who might be interested. But instead, when I clicked the button, it simply opened an email in my email program; there was no image, no link to the page, no nothing. Now, what’s the point of that?

So I asked.

And the response was: “Our CEO wanted it.” Uh…

I was speechless.

So I decided to call it the Button to Nowhere. And that made me curious to look up the definition of the Bridge to Nowhere on Wikipedia (verbatim):

A bridge to nowhere is a bridge where one or both ends are broken or incomplete and does not lead anywhere. There are three main origins for these bridges:

  • The bridge was never completed, because of the cost, or because of property rights.
  • One end or both end has collapsed or have been destroyed, e.g., by earthquake, flood, or war.
  • The bridge is disused, but was not demolished because of the cost. For instance, the bridges on abandoned railway line.

I think we need to add a fourth origin to this list: Someone forgot to ask the customer where he/she wanted to go.

As consumers, we are incredibly discerning; we sense where there has been great care in the design, and when there is cynicism and greed.” -Jonathan Ive

If you have features on your products that…

  • haven’t been vetted with customers,
  • have no seemingly-obvious or intuitive purpose,
  • don’t solve a problem but create one, or
  • don’t do what a customer would expect them to do (again, intuitively)

… then it’s time to rethink your design process. It must include the voice of the customer, in whatever form that happens.

Designer Massimo Vignelli said, “There is no design without discipline. There is no discipline without intelligence.” That intelligence must come from listening to your customers: defining personas, understanding their needs or problems, and listening to how they would use the product.

There are those who believe that Apple doesn’t do any kind of research with customers about its products and would counter my point above about the source of intelligence (because they want to be the next Steve Jobs?). I say Apple does. I know it takes all the mystique and magic out of all that is Apple, but trust me, Apple listens to the voice of the customer. And you should, too.

Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, ‘Faster horses.’” Just remember that there are different approaches, other than conducting surveys, to listening to the voice of the customer. There are a variety of methods for uncovering needs, expectations, painpoints, and problems to solve.

Products are created to fill a need or to solve a problem, not to create a problem. Going back to the design process, Jason Fried says, “The design is done when the problem goes away.” Amen to that.

Does your product have any Buttons to Nowhere?

People ignore design that ignores people. –Frank Chimero