Function & Art

How does one find the balance between function & art when designing products? How do you choose between them? WHY must we choose between them?

We all need beauty in our everyday. We need our products to work consistently and feel natural. As a consumer society, we tend to interact with items as if they are alien. Why do these things have to be so different from ourselves? Shouldn’t our tools be an extension of ourselves?

A typical human child does not have to rethink or relearn  pointing, walking, or chewing every time they enter a new situation or change their clothes. These things come naturally. I am even able to respond to questions and converse with others rather quickly and easily without having to validate each sound individually or have to reboot before responding.

Why do we accept these unstable, unconnected, fickle machines based on some imagined need for power at the cost of elegance, beauty and art? How did we get to this place where new, buggy technology is not held to the same aesthetic standard as classic machines and products.

Take a look at how our American Consumerism started in the 50’s. The style of the cars out of Detroit. The (still) attractive Helvetica type. A Frank Wright house vs. the suburban sprawl cookie cutter houses gathering dust post-housing crash.

Items and experiences are judged by whether they satisfy. I am dumbfounded that society as a whole has lost or dismissed this basic tenet of judgment and accepts failing, disruptive piles of cobbled together technologies that  lack beauty  or elegance.

As a designer and usability specialist, I am constantly amazed by developers and consumers alike who accept the blame for not “understanding” how a product works and changing their own behavior or mental models in order to match a poorly designed product rather than demanding that the product be changed.

I am reminded of an article from 2008, Zen & the Art of Software Maintenance on Untangle.

The idea that we have somehow separated the expectation of  software that has a lot of power under the hood from the slick packaging and great user experience from others that do not provide as much flexibility and options.

As designers, we need to provide the whole package. There is not supposed to be a trade-off. The idea of a great user experience is to provide everything the customer needs without sacrificing learnability & usabilty.

Products that organize the feature set the right way will not require any kind of manual, change in behavior or even customer support because humans will naturally know exactly how to interact with this product since it is made FOR humans.

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