In Praise of “Moving Stuff Around”

I was on my fifth revision of a search screen. (In my defense, it was a complicated search, with lots of variables.) The client said to me, in what might be my favorite comment of all time, “But you’re just moving stuff around!” Yes, I admitted rather sheepishly at the time, I was doing just that.

After the meeting ended, I realized I had no need to feel embarrassed. “Moving stuff around” is a lot of what design does: providing structure, hierarchy, and cues for understanding via positioning. But without justification and explanation, it can look like just fiddling.

I remembered this anecdote when I saw this 1972 interview with the legendary Charles Eames, in which he offers up his definition of design as:

A plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose. [emphasis mine]

If Charles Eames can put arranging elements aka “moving stuff around” as the core activity of design, then so can I. There is a value in putting objects such as controls into an understandable configuration. This is, in fact, the exact service many designers provide. Embrace it.

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