Thursday, March 4, 2004

The Aesthetics of Revelation

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue newsstand sales are expected to hit about 1.5 million this year and bring in some $34 million in advertising revenue. Why? It's not like there isn't a ready availability of nude women, both online and in magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, et al. And why did those nudie mags take a beating from those "laddie" magazines like FHM and Stuff with their scantily-clad (but not nude) starlets?

My guess is that it's for the same reason that millions of men look forward to getting the Victoria's Secret catalog: sometimes you don't want or need to see everything. Sometimes it's more aesthetically pleasing to only show a part of something, to keep something hidden; it creates desire. As Freud taught us, we desire what we don't have or what we feel we've lost.

Design is partially about creating objects of desire. It's a third of the trinity of useful, usable, and desirable that comprise products we want to own and use. Desirability is that quality that makes us want to have the thing be a part of our lives. It's the voice of the product, beckoning to us. And what's more seductive, a whisper or a shout?

Of course, this goes against what usability and findability gurus have been telling us for years. People want to see every link, they tell us. Put everything out front. Get everything out in the open. Show us full frontal, in other words.

But maybe, just maybe, this isn't the right way to make something appealing. Yes, there are times when you do just want things quickly and efficiently. But not every task is about efficiency. There is a pleasure in exploration and in finding something that is not initially apparent, but is there when you go to look for it. Just this afternoon, I overheard a discussion about finding the Track Changes feature in MS Word. It was such a revelation, a group of people had a discussion about it. (And when was the last time you heard people get excited (in a good way) about Word?) Now, granted, it shouldn't have taken years to find this feature, but still...

Design is a strange combination of making the invisible, visible (think of the UI and of affordances) and, when necessary, making the visible, invisible. What you can't see, like the dropped notes in jazz music, is sometimes as important as what you can. What remains left out or hidden or strategically covered with a thin piece of wet fabric is a design decision, done for effect. Elegance is achieved.

Posted at 06:10 PM | comments (3) | trackback (0)


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