MAKE Me Think
After reading Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think, I was left feeling unsettled. The title alone made me cringe. While I believe in making things accessible and available to people in all places in life, I have a hard time with the concept of reducing the brainpower necessary to complete everyday tasks. I understand that the goal is to reduce stress in rather mundane tasks so that greater, more difficult tasks can be achieved. For example, if I am looking to find a recipe for protein bars, I do not want to waste time trying to figure out how to search for the perfect recipe. I want to spend my time browsing my options and making the actual protein bar. Despite this, I still cannot help but wonder, how simple is too simple? At what point do we make things so “easy” that humans no longer know how to make simple decisions or expend energy in learning.
Defining Simple + Easy
Simply put, simple is not so easy to define in the design field. As Wired Magazine describes in the article “When it Comes to UX Design, Simplicity is Overrated,” definitions of simple range from describing a minimal layout and visual design to the number of “clicks” or “taps” it takes a user to complete a task. One refers to ease of visual understanding and the other refers to ease of overall use. In addition, these so called simple visuals and actions are actually tied to highly complex processes that bring them to fruition. It tends to be quite difficult for people, especially non-designers to reduce complexity. While I do not want to struggle to find the things I need on an app or webpage, I also am finding myself increasingly tired the minimalist infographics and trendy “hero images” that adorn many a homepage. It may be incredibly clear, accessible, and quick for me to reach the desired content, but where is the journey, the narrative, the sense of discovery? I want to see a design that parallels a hike; a little bit of strain and sweat to produce the ultimate reward of achievement of a difficult task.
Architecture + Simplicity
I found myself asking the same question when in school for architecture and industrial design. The power and failures of modernism come to mind. Some architects hold modernism in high regard. Landscape architects, my previous profession, tend to view it in a negative light. The principals of modernism were ambitious and idealistic. Modernism was an almost complete rejection of the past. It was a “clean slate.” Modernism formed spaces devoid of excess ornament that were somewhat of an open framework where a multitude of activities could occur. Spaces could be anything and everything, but in my opinion, modern buildings feel like nothing. The harshness of often strictly orthogonal forms with little texture seem lifeless. Many modernist buildings I have seen have not aged well over time. While living in Chicago, I would walk past the Mies van der Rhoe apartments along Lakeshore Drive. In the cold Chicago winter, they only reinforced my winter blues. Because modernism aimed to produce “pure” forms in the present and look unintentionally worn today. In rejecting the past and looking only to the future, these buildings did not consider their role as more than an “iconic” structure, but a structure that would become a part of the past. I compare modernist buildings to places like the Alhambra or Renaissance churches and while modernist architecture may have produced incredible new structural feats, it seems so devoid of culture. Modern architectural designs can be processed quite quickly, while the ornament of a renaissance church could fascinate me endlessly and provide new discoveries upon every visit. I enjoy taking time to dwell on the depth of time and skill it must have taken to create such structures.
Looking to the Future
I view current trends in User Experience Design as having certain parallels to modernist architecture. In designing for everyone, how do we preserve culture or allow for the growth of culture within technology? As a designer with an ecological mindset, lifecycle an degradation over time fascinate me. My material choices in architectural projects were almost always driven by how the material would evolve over time. Many projects focused on materials that would degrade or be repurposed rather than being designed to resist the forces of nature. Material, if sourced locally has an incredible power to reinforce culture and place. As I venture into a world where Google provides new definitions of material in the digital realm, how does it evolve and change with culture? Material, in technology, is placeless.
Its it possible to have the incredible beauty and detail that is seen in middle eastern architecture in a website or app? I follow an artist, on Instagram, @david_mcleod who creates incredible motion graphics that are eerily lifelike and delightful in their intricacy. I cannot help but wonder if the world of apps can or should reach this level of complexity and wonder. Wonder really is the root of why I believe simplicity isn’t enough. I cannot think of any app, with the exception of Snapchat that has truly left me wanting to learn more. I barely use snapchat, but what they have developed with the filters is truly amazing in it’s capacity to blur the digital and physical worlds. Virtual reality (VR) seems to be the new trend, but how can we use this to challenge our intellect? Pokemon Go, is another excellent example of this new hybrid world. The one incredible result of this game is that it is getting those who may not love being outdoors outside as well as bringing unlikely people together. Both Snapchat and Pokemon Go are entertainment related. I am curious to know if this technology could be applied or is being applied to a more direct problem-solving application.
As I consider my future as a UX designer, I hope to be a part of designing something more than just the generic “clean,” “simple,” and “easy to use” application. I hope to see more designers questioning the relationship between digital and physical material and how they respond to time, culture, and place. I hope wonder, amazement, and discovery will be the heuristics that drive future designs.
I would enjoy hearing the responses to other designers to this post (agree or disagree) and if anyone has more references of designs that achieve this goal, please share.