One of my favorite things to photograph are electrical poles and power lines. I like them aesthetically because they break any urban landscape into a grid, which tends to look nice in a photograph. But I like the functional idea of them even more, because they’re objects that are the lifeblood of our modern lifestyle. Without these objects, we’re left in the dark (quite literally). And while their design isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, they are a great example of an object staying true to its form.
When creating something, it’s important to realize the gravity of your decisions. Designing an application that people will use, no matter how small, can have a profound impact in someone’s life.
We love to jump around to different things, and find things to keep us distracted from tasks at hand - especially when those tasks involve a great deal of work. My job is to pare down those distractions. Just think about how many interfaces someone has to navigate through to get to a website. The Operating System interface, the browser interface, and a website’s interface (assuming someone doesn’t have to search for the site to get there). People can trudge through all of these interfaces, but I strive to make the experience as painless as possible. If the path to get to what I’m creating can’t be simplified, I try to at least make the product rewarding in the way it behaves.
I always try to figure out the essence of what I’m creating. Knowing the audience is important, but knowing the personality of my creation should drive your design decisions. Most of my work is as an interface designer, where I’m thinking about organizing information. Alongside from technical considerations, I often take a step back and wonder: where does the strongest point or cluster of information come from? I often start there, and build my designs around those things. Adding any extra element needs to be done carefully. I never want to lose the things I need to remind my users of and keep them using what I’ve created.
Why ‘essence’? Any designer working in the interactive field is privy to a bunch of different terms that we use to describe parts of our process. We’ve had some really great developments over the last couple years with this. Presentations around things like grit fromCameron Moll, or delight from Frank Chimero. But when describing a design, I often use ‘essence’ for the slightly tangential, slightly fleeting feeling the word invokes. That, and the increasingly complex nature that interface and interaction design hold in their midst. It almost requires a simple, yet complex term to use in branching topics.
“Information architecture is not a matter of card sorting and drawing massive trees on whiteboards and finding the perfect philosophical balance of notions. It’s about simplifying structures to their essence.”
While this is in direct reference to information architecture, I think it can apply to just about any type of design. Even though it has its place directly with interactive design, I take this term and philosophy to heart in the things I create. Things should be simplified not just for the sake of doing so, but to keep the original intent of the design intact.