SmartBird: Design Principles in Action

Rami Tabbah - July 26th, 2011

Watching the steps that led to the success of the design of SmartBird was a delight. What drew my attention is how they designed flexible wings by virtually mimicking the bones of a real bird. This reminded me of an important design principle: compatibility with the real world. The more the designer could match the "real world" bird, the more real the SmartBird could function.

Usability heuristics are design principles that lead to successful designs. There are many heuristics. Jacob Nielsen's are the most common, but not my preferred. His "Match between system and the real world" principle includes in its definition "... Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order." A number of standards have similar lists of heuristics. An AFNOR standard includes a "Compatibility" principle and defines it as "the match between users’ characteristics and task characteristics on the one hand, and the organization of the output, input, and dialogue for a given application, on the other hand". An ISO standard includes a similar principle: "Suitability for the task".

It is not always about a user, it is sometimes about an object or machine that has to navigate its "natural" environment while following human direction. The compatibility between the object's physical and functional characteristics, and the environment where it will navigate becomes essential.

We probably need a more generic definition for the compatibility design principle.