Great design = getting people to do what you want

A copout: "Create a place or a site or a tool that helps the user do whatever the user wants to do."

I think that's just one small subset of what design is. There are only a few situations where what the designer (or her client) wants is for the user to do precisely whatever the user has in mind in the short run.

More often, designers find ourselves working to get the user to want what we want.

The goal is to create design that takes the user's long-term needs and desires into account, and helps him focus his attention and goals on accomplishing something worthwhile.

That well-designed prescription bottle, for example, is well-designed because it gets you to take your medicine even when you forget or don't feel like it. If that wasn't the goal, then a cheap Baggie would do the job.

And that well-designed web site doesn't encourage aimless clicking and eventual ennui. Instead, it pushes the user to come face to face with what's on offer and to decide (hopefully) to engage.

A good airport is designed to encourage travelers not to slow down the journey of their fellows, not to get aimless or distracted (what the traveler wants in the short run) and miss a plane.

A great book cover gets someone who isn't inclined to buy this book (if it had a plain paper wrapper) to pick it up and suddenly want what the author wants–for the reader to want to read it.

Good scissors for kids ought to be fabulous at cutting paper but not so good at cutting sisters, no matter how much little brother wants to.

Unethical design, then, is using the power of design to get the user to do something he regrets. Great design is pushing/focusing the user to do something that he'll thank you for later.

Designing for 'everyone to do anything' is difficult to do well and ultimately a cop out. It absolves the designer of responsibility, sure, but it is also design without intent or generosity.

Great designers can easily answer the question, "what do you want the user to do?"