What’s worse than understanding a lot of crap on the screen? Memorizing a lot of crap that isn’t. Bring back affordances. The essence of the graphical user interface was not graphic design by graphic designers for graphic designers. It was to enable and empower users to interact with computers by way of visual representation of the functionality and the means to interact with it.
Why am I seeing a loss of affordances everywhere and a surge in reliance upon guesswork and memorization for successful interaction? Affordances are of course, those cues built in to the design of things that offers me clues as to what it is and how I am to interact with it. We depend on these things to get through the day. More and more these things are aspects of software. So, why are these things disappearing? Sigh. It’s a case of minimalists vs. simpletons.
Invisibility is an effect to be achieved when the user is put in touch with the subject matter to the extent that the user’s awareness of the UI itself fades. This is a form of minimalism and is not a new idea. I recall news anchor, Jim Lehrer weighing in on design in an article in ID magazine in the late 80s. He defined the best design as invisible, citing the example of the suit he is wearing on the News Hour not detracting from the subject matter of the news. Obviously that idea is lost on this generation of news anchors, Robin Meade, Soledad O’Brien, or the Fox & Friends guys, etc.
A gross fallacy is to think that this effect of invisible design is achievable simply by removing anything visible of the UI. That would be Simpleton design.
This new modernist movement contains all of the truth and fiction of previous ones. Designers will play Jenga with design, removing pieces until it all comes crashing down, then start putting some pieces back until it is stable once again. It is actually a pretty good exercise, but a painful one to put users through.
Einstein’s advice to “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler” can be violated either of two ways. Trading one mistake for the other is not really much of an improvement.