Thoughts on Decoration
I hate nose piercings, and I'll tell you why. (If you have a pierced nose, I apologize in advance.) The nose, unlike almost every other aspect of the face, is purely functional. No one ever describes someone as having a really beautiful nose. "The rest of her face was so-so, but her nose was gorgeous!" Nope, doesn't happen. Eyes and mouth, yes. Nose, no. We only notice noses when they are ugly or disproportionate or when they are decorated with a piercing.
I've always held the notion that decoration should enhance the best parts of something. Crown molding to emphasize a high ceiling. Inlays to show off a wooden floor. Mascara to highlight the eyes and blush for the cheekbones. Tattoos and piercings on a fetching body part. Why draw attention to a plain or ugly feature? (And lest you think I've forgotten about earrings, my theory there is that they aren't there to decorate the ear (unless they are up high), but rather to emphasize and lengthen the neck.)
I think this principle applies to products as well. Although the trend these days is simple minimalism, if you have a sexy feature, why not decorate it to make it stand out? Does this make eye candy? Yes, but it can also make Delight for the user. Minimalism done poorly can produce some pretty flat, boring designs. I, for one, am really tired of the now-ubiquitious three-column blog-style layouts that are everywhere on the web. There's no decoration--everything is the same, bland. Nothing is really ugly, but nothing is very sexy or delightful either. I almost long for the days of more experimentation with crazy Flash layouts and such. Sure, there were some ugly sites made that way, but there were also some neat, radical things as well. With the advent of Ajax and new desktop widgets, there's never been a better time to break out of this homogeny.
Let's all pull those nose piercings out, shall we, and put decoration in its appropriate places.
The Design Whisperer
Last week's New Yorker has an unintentional (I think) theme running through a number of its articles: the idea of presence. There's a Malcolm Gladwell profile of "The Dog Whisperer", Cesar Millan. There's another profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor, the English adventurer. A piece on iconoclastic filmmaker Robert Altman in Talk of the Town, and even an interesting view of thrill-seeking molecular biologist (yes, you read that right) Charles Zucker in "The Search for Sweet."
All of these articles note, either directly or indirectly, about the effect that certain people have on a room, changing its character, making more things possible simply by being there. Gladwell's article, which he talks about on his blog, is overtly about this, and specifically about the actions that the Dog Whisperer employs to achieve this effect.
Designers, of course, need this exact same sort of presence. My old grad school professor Dick Buchanan would call this the design attitude and note that it is one of the four vectors of organizational change. In Shaping Things, Bruce Sterling also notes the way designers' presence (being "designerly") can affect change.
"Being designery is what one does, as a practical measure, in order to overcome the reactionary clinging to the installed base of malformed objects that maul and affront the customer. What cannot be overcome with reason can be subverted with glamor."
The industrial designers of the mid-20th century knew a lot about this. Raymond Lowey projected an air of bon vivant with his French attitude and water coolers filled with martinis (!). Henry Dreyfuss with his brown suits made to stand out from the standard blues, blacks, and grays.
Knowing a designer needs presence is not the same as a designer having presence, of course. It's certainly not enough to simply wear a brown suit! But then, what actions can be done to create presence? Dick Buchanan might say it's how a designer wields rhetoric to make his/her point, how designers present themselves and their work in a persuasive manner. But that bumps into the question of ethos: the character of the designer. Presence, one assumes, is part of a designer's ethos. Does one become charismatic, or is one born charismatic? If you aren't born charismatic, are there actions one can take to make yourself moreso?
Obviously, I'm not through puzzling through this.
Our Mutual Mutual Friend
I've read Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times, and probably a few other Charles Dickens works I'm forgetting. Almost every year or so, I try to tackle another (although I stopped while in grad school). Next on my list was, of course, Our Mutual Friend, which was just featured prominently in the last episode of Lost season two. (Steven Johnson guesses at what it might mean...)
Now, of course, there is no way in hell I'd buy and read the book--at least not in public--for fear of being seen as some sort of Lost poseur. I guess I'm stuck with Barnaby Rudge or something. Sigh.| Link | Comments (0)
New Interviews and Book News Feed
I've published three more interview excerpts from the upcoming (only two months away!) book, all three of them friends and bearers of wisdom: Shelley Evenson on Service Design, Carl DiSalvo on Designing for Robots, and Adam Greenfield on Everyware. I've also added a feed to the book site to update those interested in the book to follow its progress: http://www.designingforinteraction.com/index.xml (for you atom fans, it's http://www.designingforinteraction.com/atom.xml).
Upcoming Appearances and UX Week Guests
Although I'm not listed on the site yet, I'm going to be on a panel at Webvisions 2006: Let go, Jump in: Community Marketing Strategies for Empowered Customers. An unusual topic for me, I know, but I think I have some interesting things to say about it after some recent projects I've done.
I'm also doing some talks based on the book at Adaptive Path's User Experience Week: What is Interaction Design? and The Elements, Laws, and Attributes of Interaction Design. These two 45 minute sessions are a warm-up for this fall's Designing for Interaction Day, where I present all the stuff in the book in earnest. Tentative places/dates for that are September in San Francisco, October in New York, and December in Chicago, with more locations (London? Austin? Sydney? Bangalore? Tell me where!) in the winter/spring.
But to heck with me. The big news about UX Week this year is the killer line-up of guest speakers: Steven Johnson! Michael Bierut! Shelley Evenson! Jared Spool! and more being announced later! It's going to be a great event.
Sending out an APB...
...that's Adaptive Path Blog. Yes, we're finally eating some of our own dogfood over on the Adaptive path site. Check it out.
The Write Stuff
Today was a good day, book-wise. I finished writing it, for one thing, with an epilogue on designing ethically. I started seeing page proofs, for another. It's a thrill to see the words and images in their near-final form.
Lastly, some good conversation about the excerpt on UXmatters. It's frightening and thrilling that people are talking and thinking about the book before it even comes out. It will be interesting to see what the broad reaction is to it.
Book Excerpt: The Elements of Interaction Design
UXmatters has published a short excerpt from my book, a section called The Elements of Interaction Design. It's one of the more high-level/theoretical parts of the book, but interesting to think about.