This week has another drawn out metaphor! Hoorah for metaphors! I’ve been thinking about the user experience with everyday objects lately for a personal project of mine and have been thinking carefully on objects I use and admire. A local men’s clothing store near my work recently had a 50% off sale and I went in to take a look. I’ve learned over the years how to look for certain quality elements in the things I buy for myself and I got to thinking of the years of precision and know-how that have gone into making a high-quality dress shirt. It makes sense, to spend the time and effort (and, by proxy, the cash) on something that a gentleman wears every day (well, almost everyday) if it means a better experience overall. Making a good user experience means the client feels you’ve done nothing at all – that there is a seamlessness to the experience that allows the user to dwell on the task at hand because the interface is so comfortable and easy. I’ll walk through some examples of good user experience in a dress shirt, showing how each piece solves a small problem
Buttonholes serve to keep the garment fastened, plain and simple. The reason buttonholes in dress shirts run vertically is two fold: one one hand, the vertical lines look good with vertical stripes and stitching, and on the other, the vertical buttonhole keeps the button in the middle of the hole while making sure that no stress unbuttons it. Two holes in the shirt, however, have different stress points: the neckline (the collar) and the waistline (at the belt level).
The neck and hips both rotate horizontally while the chest and stomach, when they do rotate, rotate vertically along the spine. This causes stress to be placed in the opposite direction from the position of the vertical buttonholes at these locations. Tailors, being the designers they are, came up with a nifty solution.
Horizontal buttonholes at the waist and neck now distribute the pressure from twisting motion! But wait, doing so suddenly ruins the nice, clean centered button every time force is applied. The button will slide from the middle, to the opposite side of the force and back again. That wouldn’t look good, except these buttons are hidden from view by the tie at the neckline and the belt and trousers at the waistline. Brilliant!
Speaking of pressure, the shirt has pressure applied anyplace that two pieces of fabric meet. Normally seams take all this pressure, but what of areas that require openings such as the cuffs and the space where the front and back tails meet along the coronal plane of the body? Over time, tailors found these meeting of the folds took much of the stress of the garment. To solve this and make the shirts last longer, tailors employed gussets: small pieces of fabric and stitch that held fast.
These reinforcements are not that noticeable, but they add long-term value to the shirt while solving a fundamental problem, which keeps the user happy as their shirt secretly holds up throughout the day
The collar of a shirt is arguably one of the most distinctive aspects to the shirt. Button down, point, or wing collars all give a clean line to the face of the gent wearing it. Tailors know this but they also know that men sweat and need to wash the shirt over and over again in its lifetime. The problem with washing is the shrinking effect it can have on fabric. To keep the points clean and the collar looking sharp, Tailors build in undercollars. Undercollars are woven differently than the top collar to not pull on the top fabric if they shrink.
The undercollar really highlights a good user experience in that the shirt, despite repeated cleaning, looks great everytime. The undercollar is almost never, ever seen, much less noticed, yet it just works to make the user appreciate the forward-facing part of the shirt.
Buttons and Stitching
Buttons and stitches are the main reinforcements of the garment, and as such, need to be sturdy and many. Buttons on well made shirts are generally pearl, rather than plastic. Though Tailors found that it was cheaper to use plastic or resin buttons, they cause the buttons to slip from their holes easier and can chip and crack more often than their stronger pearl counterparts. Stitches hold all the pieces of the garment together, so the more per square inch, the more the shirt feels like a single piece, moving as one.
The phrase, “A stitch in time, may save nine” is literal here. This translates to any user experience designer: by spending the time and effort to make the experience better up front, the system becomes easier to maintain and by thinking of the details, the major pieces are already in place.
When I’m designing a user experience, I think about the ways the user will operate the system. Where will the user notice problems? Where will the pain points be? By gathering feedback and thinking critically, we can reinforce the way the user interacts to ensure a seamless and brilliant feel for our users. By taking care of the problems the user might run into, be provide an interface that the user feels is bespoke, made for them. When we do things right, the experience is as nice and comfortable as your favorite shirt.