“Intentionally hiding the phenomena and materiality of interfaces, smoothing over the natural edges, seams and transitions that constitute all technical systems, entails a loss of understanding and agency for both designers and users of computing.”
Arnall writes an insightful article on the difficulties of “invisible design.” He’s a creative director at BERG, a company whose design philosophy I’ve always appreciated. Their writing is often forward thinking and excited about the potential of technology, yet grounded in the world of real things and behaviour.
In his blog post, Arnall puts forwards a number of great points very much in line with BERG’s design philosophy. It touches on themes that lie close to my own design principles, including materiality, “foregrounding the culture” the design is situated in, and designing things that empower people to make sense of their world. For Arnall, there is much opportunity when considering the “seams” of the design. These are the components of the design that hold it together, that allow it to work as a whole. He speaks of the “honesty” of the seams of the designed product. Designers have the opportunity to makes the seams legible to people and empower them to appreciate (and perhaps even alter) them.
As it happens, I was also reading a book on postmodern architectural theory at the same time I read the article. The parallels between the discussion of “seams” in UI design and the discussions of the joint as a defining detail in architecture are striking. This helped fuel another thought that’s been floating around in my head about the interconnectedness of theory between fields. Interaction design is often thought as a new, emerging field, but by digging deeper, its roots can be found running through many other fields. Interaction designers have much to learn from the theory and history of fields like architecture, film, anthropology, and many others. It’s a line that I intend to explore further.