Usability comes first - especially when death rays are involved
This story about a new Las Vegas hotel got a lot of mileage last week on Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere. In case you missed it, guests lounging at the pool at the Vdara hotel
reportedly are getting burned by concentrated sun rays strong enough to melt plastic drink cups and plastic newspaper bags.
Obviously, the big story here is cost-cutting. Had the Vdara Hotel spent more money on a reflective film for sun-facing windows, the "death-ray" wouldn't exist. But an underlying issue is putting a priority on form, rather than function. The building's placement in the path of the sun, and the concave facade, combined to produce the death-ray effect. So even though the design is aesthetically pleasing, the hotel has an ugly usability problem: a swimming pool area that is more of a danger than a luxury.
It's a funny story. But there's also a valuable lesson here. We've learned, particularly on digital projects, that a great design is wasted if the application doesn't work. As Barack Obama might say, that's just putting lipstick on a pig. But the point is that design decisions have real-world consequences, whether you're talking about a digital space, brick-and-mortar or, in this case, glass and steel.