Invisible Computing

Karl Reitzig
The Designer’s Toolbox
3 min readJan 24, 2022


People engaging in the computer universe with VR
Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash

There is a principle that we aspire to in UX design called Invisible Computing, which has almost become synonymous with good design. But if we still use physical devices, how can they become invisible?

Consider reading a blog post, like this one. As you read these words, you are taking in information and following a cognitive journey through a narrative.
But, were you conscious about the decades of research and engineering behind the pixels that form the letters or the internet servers that provided you with the page while you were reading it?

Designers created an interface that was “invisible” with the goal of helping you interact with your primary task of consuming content without thinking about the interface.

An interfaces is only invisible to certain people.

Consider the growing market for no-code web development. In the eyes of a novice, Wix or Squarespace is a helpful interface to fade the science of coding into the background, by helping them focus on their primary goal of quickly creating a basic website.

But, to an expert developer, that same interface could be extremely frustrating. To them, that simple graphic user interface is intrusive because they consider a faster and more comprehensive text based interface an invisible computing experience.

UX designers don’t design interfaces. They design interactions between a person and a task.

A really successful design isn’t measured by trendy features or tech. It’s one that is humble enough to disappear and allow a user to complete their task.

Someone enjoying their  Kindle.
Photo by Grant Jacobson on Unsplash

Think about the Kindle. At its core, it’s just a screen that has content on it. Not even buttons. But, through careful and innovative solutions like gesture-based interactions and energy efficient screens, it becomes invisible and is now one of the most successful e-readers.

But this also highlights how difficult it could be to make something invisible…

There were heaps of both hardware and software innovations necessary to make your Kindle seem like such a simple interface. Consider the amount of research and engineering that had to be invested into the gesture-based interactions to turn a page.

The easier move might have been to add simple pagination buttons. However, by leveraging the affordance of turning pages the decided to use the mental models people already had of books to make the digital interface more invisible and pleasant to use.

To close, let’s sum up how we can create more invisible computing experiences.

  1. Start by clearly identifying the main task. The interface needs to be tailored around your user’s task.
  2. Identify your primary users. Their unique needs and goals will guide you to make the interface disappear for them.
  3. Iterate. Our first idea is usually not the best one. Conduct effective brainstorming with your team to help you explore all the possible hardware and software solutions.

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Karl Reitzig
The Designer’s Toolbox

I’m a South African UX designer sharing my thoughts on digital design and tech.