By PoL Úbeda Hervàs

Invisible Design

“Good design…Is as little design as possible” — Dieter Rams

Julie Zhuo
Nov 13, 2013 · 4 min read

People often expect designers to have a certain sensibility towards well-crafted interfaces. And that’s not untrue—a brief perusal on dribbble, for instance, reveals no shortage of beautiful pixels. But some of the best-designed experiences require little to no new pixel work. Why? Because any new interface requires effort—effort to learn, to open up, to navigate through. While that effort is necessary in many cases, when an app or service comes along that fulfills the magic of it just works—well, then that is a beautiful thing indeed.

Here are some examples, both old and new, that remind me of this principle at work:


Before Dropbox, there were various ways to share or sync files between computers. You could get some server space and do some FTP, or e-mail important stuff to yourself, or go to some web service to upload and then download the files. These options all sucked, because they all required you to manually going through some upload and download process. Dropbox changed that by picking the most natural surface for you to store the files you want to sync or share: system folders. Everyone knows how to deal with folders. And it just syncs with almost zero manual overhead. If you work across multiple computers or teams, it’s hard to imagine life without Dropbox.


You watch the video, and you’ll get exactly how this thing works. I don’t care how simple or lightweight the type your password pane is. You know what’s simpler? Tapping your pocket.

Square Cash

Paypal paved the way in making it easy to send money online. Then, Venmo and Google Wallet took it one step further, allowing you to send money through an app, or attaching money via e-mail if you’re a Gmail/Google Wallet user. Then, Square Cash came along. BAM! No need to create an account on either my side or yours. No being forced to use a specific e-mail provider. I can shoot a message to any friend, cc, and put some dollar amount in the subject line. (Of course, at some point, both of us have to input debit card info, but by then the promise of money has already been made, so there’s a lot of incentive to do so.) A classic example of removing barriers to entry.

ESPN ScoreCenter

I rarely navigate to this app directly, but on those Saturdays when I can’t lounge around on the couch and watch college football, ScoreCenter’s push notifications have got me covered. I can opt for notifications from any teams I’m interested in, and also choose to get pushed just the final score, or scores after every quarter. Nothing fancy here, just push notifications giving me exactly what I want when I’m on the go.

Automatic, over-the-air updates

Remember when you had to set aside half and hour to wrestle through the wires-from-hell drawer just so you could find a USB cable and do a software update on your phone? Or when your friend would have to tell you to download the newest version of some app because why would you remember to manually navigate to the apps page and tap the update button every month? If you have new, shiny software, then the easiest way to get that into my hands is to not make me think about it too much. (Next up: if only we could bypass having to charge devices with wires.)

Voice commands

One day not too far from now, voice recognition will get good enough to be consistently reliable and trustworthy and it’ll reach a tipping point where people start to use it for nearly all inputs, because talking will be far easier than whipping out your phone and navigating through a bunch of screens and typing letters with your thumbs. And when that day comes, my guess is that it’ll cut in half the number of interfaces I go through daily.

Invisible bike helmet

You can make bike helmets any color you want. You can slap any sort of pattern or design on them to give them some personality. Too bad there’s no getting around the fact that bike helmets feel clunky to wear and give you helmet hair and generally don’t look very good and are annoying to carry around. So what about designing an invisible bike helmet? I don’t know enough about the project to know if we’ll see it in the streets soon, but the approach is nothing short of amazing.

At the end of the day, it’s not UIs or screens or graphics we should be enamored with; it’s ease of use. Sometimes, the easiest things are the hardest to see.

Thanks to Mike Sego

Julie Zhuo

Written by

Currently: Inspirit. Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager Find me @joulee. I love people, words, and food.

The Year of the Looking Glass

A collection of essays by Julie Zhuo on design, building products, and observing life.

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