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Maybe to NoUI


Timo Arnall’s “No to NoUI” ( has caused quite a stir within the design community. While I enjoyed reading this article, I do take issue with some of the authors arguments. Specifically Timo Arnall doesn’t try to suss out a definition of Invisible Design, and he issues blanket statements about the inherent “dishonesty” of so-called Invisible Design. While I don’t disagree with what I believe to be the overarching message within Arnall’s essay, that design should be “legible, readable, understandable, and foreground culture over technology”, I do take point with particular arguments he presents to get towards that goal.

Invisible doesn’t mean non-existent

First, it seems that when a lot of people talk about “invisible” interfaces, they are talking about interfaces that are not exactly invisible, but are more wholly integrated with our “natural” environment. Siri for instance is often talked about being “invisible”, but the technology is far from it. Users must push a button to activate Siri, and then the technology speaks back to the user. While spoken interface is “invisible” in that it doesn’t utilize the visible spectrum, it’s hardly an “invisible” interface when the technology is speaking back directly to the person who queried it. Further, technologies like Siri often employ a highly visible UI to encourage choice and help users inform the technology about their intentions.

Invisible vs Background-ed

“You don’t have to use the interface anymore — it becomes part of the background,” – Golden Krishna

The author (Arnall) talks about interfaces becoming invisible and argues that “Without highly legible systems for managing and understanding all of this ‘smartness’ we are going to get very lost and highly frustrated”. He uses the example of the Nest thermostat that learns users preferred temperature patterns over time. The author states that it’s very important that Nest has a UI so that users can understand what it’s doing and understand the complexity behind the system. However, I would argue that people don’t want to fully understand the complexity of Nest. People want things that just work for them, and once Nest learns their habits and conforms to them, people forget about the complexity and UI all together, essentially making the Nest invisible. The same is true for common thermostats in that they are just part of the background and invisible until they are needed. This is the kind of invisibility that designers are clamoring for today, and something people (read: users) desire as well; technology that works and ways to understand when it doesn’t.

Invisible design ignores interface culture

Arnall says “Interfaces are the dominant cultural form of our time. So much of contemporary culture takes place through interfaces and inside UI. Interfaces are part of cultural expression and participation, skeuomorphism is evidence that interfaces are more than chrome around content, and more than tools to solve problems.” This is completely on point and a very good argument. The author talks about how interface is a form of culture making, much like typography or photography in earlier years (and still today). As our world moves towards more and more digital technology, interfaces become an important understanding of who we are as a people. However, the author fails to discuss how “invisible” (see how I keep putting that in quotes?) design can influence culture as well. Looking back at Siri, culture steams from “her” stylized and highly personable voice. Further, Siri can has been labeled by some as “snarky” or “apologetic”. Her voice carries culture from past “assistants” in television and movies and brings with it a culture in and of itself. Just because an interface isn’t physically visible, doesn’t make the interface invisible and certainly doesn’t mean the interface lacks or doesn’t create culture.

Evident interaction

The author states that a designer’s goal should be to “place as much control as possible in the hands of the end-user by making interfaces evident”. I disagree. I don’t believe that many people in the world want complete control of all interfaces. I believe that people want control when it’s appropriate, and they only want appropriate control. I don’t need the interface of an automatic sink to be controllable, I just want it to work through the magic of sensing; except when it fails. This is nuanced and full of details for each and every interaction that takes place for an interface, and should be carefully considered by all who design.

Further, the author states that “We must abandon invisibility as a goal for interfaces; it’s misleading, unhelpful and ultimately dishonest”. This is a large blanket statement that fails to take into account situations in which invisibility might be exactly what’s needed for a situation. The real goal of designers should be to carefully consider when invisibility is useful and not blindly follow the newest shouting from the design masses.

Towards a better definition of Invisible Design

Designers don’t fully intend for everything to disappear and be fully automatic and autonomous. Instead they intend for designs to be background-ed to content, experience, and intentions. People don’t need to understand every decision a system might make for them at all times, but they do need a way to get to that information easily and without frustration. Designer’s intentions are not to foreground design itself, but to enhance the lives of people through thoughtful crafting of things. Good design should therefore be invisible when it’s not needed, and become more and more visible when called upon. Therein we have a fuller understanding and definition of invisible design as design that lives in the background of human experiences and comes to the foreground with thoughtful craft and understanding of people’s needs, desires, and intentions.

Design should always remain subservient to people’s needs and desires, Invisible Design helps to direct and maintain the proper hierarchy of the relationship between people and things while making our lives better and freeing our precious minds from a thousand more decisions we don’t need to make.

Open Discussion

As designers, it’s important that we continue to talk about over-arching concepts and design theory, my opinion isn’t the only one, might not be coherent, and could certainly be wrong. Let’s discuss like adults.

Feature image by Zizaza:

Monster #10

Here are some in progress sketches, and the final, of Monster #10. This guy has been in my head for quite a while, and it’s taken me a long time to get him to look “right”. I’m pretty happy with the results, and with the overall results of just sketching more. As a designer, I find it’s good to sketch frequently. I created this guy, as with all my monster sketches, with the Paper app for iPad, using a Maglus stylus.

monster number 10, early

monster number 10 with shading

monster number 10 with some detail

final sketch of monster number 10

Questions About Photography

Recently I was contacted by a photography student asking about my Body Emotions series. The student was interested in the background of the series and what got me into photography in general. She asked:

“I would like to know what got you into photography and why you chose to do a shoot about body emotions?

What influenced you into doing such an interesting project and what kind of meanings or emotions were you trying to portray?”

Here is my response, in case you (dear reader) were also wondering.

Why I Got Into Photography

Man holding a video game controller angrily holding his first in the air

from a series for IU Creative Services

I got into photography really because I love light. I like looking around me and noticing things. I like details about the world. I like the small worlds that inhabit our much larger world. And I love people and emotions.

For me, photography became a way to express what I saw in the world. It was an outlet, and sometimes the only way I felt I could speak. Most of the time I didn’t fully understand what I wanted to say until I started shooting, then it just all came out. At times, I didn’t even think I had anything to say at all, but once I got behind the lens, I couldn’t help but speak.

The camera also enabled me to dis-engage with the world physically while highly engaging with it both emotionally and mentally. The physical was always there, moving around a subject or manipulating light, but the mental exercise of seeing something before I created the photograph was powerful. It enabled me to be reflective about what I saw, and what I thought.

a black and white image depicting a gritty lock and chain

details in fine art photography

I also love how looking through a view-finder always changes my perspective. It forces me to think. It forces me to understand, and to notice. But that process never stopped within the camera. It evolved constantly as I edited photos in the darkroom, or manipulated images digitally. I always tried to force myself to understand what I was trying to say, and if that message was coming across. I also love imaging what people will think about a photograph as well. How can I get my message across to the viewer? What will speak loudly to them? (which ties in well to my career in experience design.)

About Body Emotions

I specifically began shooting body emotions after a weird night of playing around with my camera. I often shoot self portraits, and one night I decided to put a box on my head. I was working at my computer and seeing all these boxes everywhere. A box for my computer, a box for the screen, a box around the keyboard, 20 different boxes on the screen. It seems like we are always working with boxes and within boxes. So boom, it hit me. Why not put a box on my head? What would I look like if my head were a box?

Body Emotion - Fear

FEAR – from Body Emotion

It was after that first night that I began seeing and thinking more specifically how I might be able to convey emotions without facial expressions. So much of our lives is focused on faces. What can we say without faces? I’ve also always been a big believer in the power of body language.

So, I merged the two ideas and out came Body Emotions. I wanted to create a series of photographs depicting several base emotions of human life. All without the use of a face. It was a difficult project for me, and I shoot and re-shoot many many times. I shoot in both film and digital, often in the same night. I had to imagine lighting, body positions, clothing, and set. And, I had to do it all within the confines of my bedroom. It was a constraint that I gave myself. It also let me be more free with my body and more expressive without feeling awkward in some public situation, though I’ve often thought about extending the work to public places.

So I kept shooting and shooting until I had this nice large body of work and many different emotions. I then edited everything down to a base set. I worked both in the lab with prints and in Lightroom and Photoshop with digital images. Overall, it was a blast, and probably one of my most successful series.

Check out some more of my photography, and if you have questions yourself, let me know! I would love to hear from others about their own experiences.

Nike+ Experience

I’ve been a runner and Nike+ user for a littler over a year. I’ve always been a fan of the simple interface, and great accuracy. I also always seem to listen to music while I run, which made carrying my iPhone a no-brainer for me. All I had to do was slap my phone on my arm, plug in my headphones, start the app, and go. Nike took things from there. Great!

I recently had the opportunity to try out the Nike+ Sportswatch. I’m very intrigued by wearable technology, and wondered how the experience might be different from carrying my iPhone around. I can probably sum it up in one word. Freedom.

The Nike+ Sportswatch allowed me to focus on my run. I didn’t have my phone bolted onto my arm. I didn’t worry about music. I just ran. And when I wanted some metrics about my run, like my current pace or distance, it was a simple glance down at my wrist. Easy. Awesome. Free. It felt really light. Like running for the first time. There was no real burden of gear, nothing to weigh me down, nothing for me to worry about. It was really a great experience.

image from Nike+

All except for setting it up, waiting for the damn thing to get a GPS signal, not being sure if it was accurately tracking my distance (it really did seem off), syncing back up to, and then seeing two different tweets with two different metrics posted about my run (one of which I authorized).

I’m not going to talk about the out-of-box experience, because I didn’t really try this right out of the box. But I did have to download software, plug in the watch to my computer (great industrial design for the usb connector though!), reset the watch to factory settings (I’m just borrowing it), connect it to my Nike+ account, and finally unplug it from my computer and go. I’m not going to talk about that experience.

And I’m not going to talk about how long it took for the watch to get a GPS signal. With me standing on the street looking like an idiot. With people gawking at my wondering what the hell I’m doing standing around for instead of running. I’m not going to talk about that hell, and I’m not going to talk about the distance being off, or having to plug the watch into my computer to sync it all back up.

The Details Matter!

What I would like to quickly say (although it’s not really quick now, sorry). Is that the entire experience changed for me (please, please listen up Nike), when I saw two different tweets sent out about my run.

The first, I didn’t authorize. Not in any way that I can remember anyway.

A little bit later I opened the Nike+ app on my phone to sync the data I just uploaded to the Nike+ site back down to my phone, where I mostly interact with Nike+ (and I’m not the only one Nike). This one I did authorize, because I sent the information off to Path as well.

First off, why did Nike send the first tweet? I never authorized that to be shared. I also never authorized Nike to send my GPS data. Not that I’m really worried about people seeing where I ran and other metrics, but I never authorized that private data to be sent.

Second, why did the first tweet mention the sportswatch and the second did not? I can see why Nike would default to adding that information as it’s great product placement and advertising for free, but why not include it in the second? I’m confused here.

Third, why do the two tweets seem to have different metrics and information? That’s really confusing. I doubled checked the links (you can as well), and the metrics seem to be the same. I really don’t know what is happening here. Let me know if you do. Also, why does the second tweet have “/mi” included while the first does not? What is the messaging here?

So, one small interaction, one tiny detail changed my entire Nike+ experience. Please take note, the details matter. They matter a lot!