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The following question popped up at the top of my mobile StackExchange app the other day: Designing a Coffee Machine

Without catching where it was posted before clicking on it, my thought was "what a great question for hitting on why multiple usability concepts are important in an everyday device!". Once I realized the question was on Code Review I was a little bummed, but the idea still stood in the head.

The type of question is somewhat abstract but I don't see it as any worse in that arena as many of the "how do I..." type questions.

For example: "How would I design a door knob/handle" - yields many great points on ergonomics and affordance.

For example: "Designing a Tea Pot" - may produce an answer that points out exactly why this is the most practical design ever (it'd be one heck of an answer to do so):

enter image description here

Would such questions be appropriate?

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I'm a fan of a liberal/broader policy on questions on SE.

This is a great example of a question that's worthy of meta debate. That said, I think "design a teapot" is probably a little broad as a question (nice book reference with the photo btw).

But, perhaps a constructive way to narrow the specificity while still providing plenty of breadth would be to provide a design objective or some design constraints. For example:

  • Designing a teapot for people with no fine motor skills, because pouring tea is a real UX problem for these users (narrowing via design objective)
  • Designing a distinctive teapot for low-income households because the teapot is often the center of the dining room table in third world countries (narrowing via design constraint)

I'd also add, maybe controversially, that for certain topics like physical design where the topical area is under-represented, I would personally be in favor of a little "affirmative action" to allow broad-but-popular questions to help seed topical interest, because it's good for the community in the long run.

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The problem with "how do I ..." type questions is that they tend to be so broad that a complete answer would be a mini tutorial at best, and a short book in most cases. Does that make a good question on UX.SE?

If questions are overly broad, you tend to end up with the answer being a mix of points from a number of questions, as each answer will tend to focus on a few non-overlapping aspects. The "full" answer should take into account many of these aspects, and as most people don't really want to write even a 2 page answer, the result is that there is usually no "full" answer to the question.

That said, my personal feeling is that I would rather give broad (but otherwise good) questions some leeway, and give the community a chance to answer them. It may be that we end up with some long yet comprehensive answers, and that to me would be a good thing. However, if we get many short, incomplete answers, we need to consider closing the question.

To me there is a link between the questions and the types of answers that they give, and in most cases the limitations on the questions are there to encourage good answers more than anything else.

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Beeing also a fan of 'liberal/broader policy' i clearly see problems arising from this – especially if the question is as broad as your example. IMHO it's close to "How do I design a webshop" or thelike. While I am very much interested in people's thoughts about 'how to design a tea pot' just as 'how to design a webshop', I also fear SE could sooner or later be flooded with similar questions.

On the other hand, if questions relate to 'parts' or 'fragments' of greater contexts, I suppose most people would have no problem with such questions – no matter if the question is physical or digital design related.

PS: Having studied design myself (first physical, then digital) I must say I find class rooms, news groups, forums, blogs – and of course cafés and bars more suitable places to discuss such broad questions. (Having that said I would appreciate any pointers to design– / ux–related online discussion forums or the like that have a similar engaged audience as we find it here on SE.)

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