‘Chicken Döner kebab wrap in Istanbul’ by flickr user ‘My life is yummy’ 

Content is Kebab

Three culinary metaphorical assumptions on designing a good interface

Assumption number one: there is no such thing as a good or a bad kebab*.

The way I see it, the true goodness of a kebab is directly proportional to how hungry you are. “Hunger -my grandfather says- is the best seasoning ever”. We could easily use this as a metaphor for interfaces. Meaning that the design of an interface is not intrinsically good or bad, but that it all depends on how quickly the user wants to achieve his or her goal. Right?

Absolutely wrong.

When we use a website or an app we are all extremely hungry. We all want to access the content or complete the task as quickly and easily as possible. I’ve never seen anyone enjoying a complicated interface, no matter the amount of time and the level of commitment.

But think about the kebab again: it could be that you’re extremely hungry, and that the kebab in question is also extremely good, intrinsically. But sadly, the kebab maker didn’t give you enough wrapping. So you end up dirtying your hands, or worse your clothes, with all the yoghurt and spicy sauces. An awful experience. So we come to the second assumption:

Assumption number two: the wrapping matters.

And the wrapping is the interface. That’s because the kebab is actually the content, and the wrapper is how you handle it, the way you experience it. The same goes with interfaces: they always serve a purpose, which is allowing the user to experience a content. The interface is not the content. The kebab is.

For this reason, I sometimes order a kebab without sauce. Not because I don’t like it (like hell i do!), but because I absolutely want to avoid dirtying myself. On the other end of the metaphor, I give up on some content in order to experience it better. But the sauce is not actually the content: you mainly eat the kebab for the vegetables and the meat it has. The sauce is more like an embellishment, an additional function.

That tells us something about what’s now happening more and more in the digital world.Teens, for instance, are increasingly sharing content on Snapchat instead of Facebook, even if Facebook has many more functions, because Snapchat allows them to experience the content in a more direct, hassle-free way. There’s no sauce, but you can’t possibly be annoyed by all those things you don’t really need in that moment. And after a few seconds the content is deleted and you’re perfectly clean. Awesome. The same goes with Medium itself: you don’t have all the functions of, say, a Wordpress website. But you also avoid all the hassle and skip right to the content, which is just words. There are many other examples of this.

So here’s assumption number three:

Assumption number three: the less sauce, the better interface.

I learned this two ways. The easy one was eating kebabs. The hard one was building Mapnaut.

The first concept of Mapnaut was basically a giant kebab flooded with sauces. There were at least six separate functions. And even if the interface looked great, chances of getting the user annoyed by all that sauce were very high.

So we decided to cut off everything. But really, everything: kebab included. We made it all so subtle and minimal that the little content left was barely visible. Even if you make the interface minimal, you should remember that you still need to show the content somehow. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” says my grandpa again. You need to find a balance. Otherwise you’re just selling me an empty wrapper, or on the opposite, you’re just randomly throwing the content in my face (which is particularly annoying in the case of a kebab).

Only on our third attempt were we able to make a kebab with the right amount of sauce and the right wrapping. At least, that’s what we think, because we still have to go public. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, recommend this post if you also love kebabs, and follow us maybe. Yummy!

*For all of the real kebab makers out there: don’t get me wrong! What I mean is that I find it very difficult to separate the taste of a kebab from the contextual level of my hunger. But of course I know that not all kebabs are created equal ;-).