I recently did a phone interview for the User Interface Resource center which is sponsored by the folks at Adobe, Microsoft and Effective UI. The folks at Effective UI were interested in having an informal discussion around the concepts of "high design vs. low design" that is, highly-designed "experiential" applications that push the limits of technology and human interaction (Think slick desktop applications) vs. solutions that don't quite push as hard on (think Craigslist, Flickr, or Twitter). Any insights I maye have provided may be rooted in common sense. We use philips screwdrivers for cross head screws and regular screwdrivers for regular screws. Skilled practitioners know they should carry both and really skilled practitioners build homes that people actually want to live in.
Below are a few highlights:
For the full transcript go here.
That’s a great segue into the context of today’s discussion. I want to get your take on two contemporary user experience trends that we see on the Web today — that in many ways seem contradictory or divergent. That is, simple design versus complex design. On one hand we have sites like Delicious, Google Apps and Craigslist, all of which have a very minimal hypertext-based UI presentation. On the other hand we are seeing a strong emergence of RIAs of various flavors — in Flex, Silverlight and AJAX — that support a very rich presentation of user interface elements, as well as very dynamic interaction. Do you see these two trends as being contradictory or do you see them as complementary?
That’s a really big question without a black-and-white answer. Way back in 2003, Kevin Mullet wrote a Macromedia white paper titled The Essence of Effective Rich Internet Applications which was a precursor to what we’re talking about today regarding high and low design. He made a great case for rich design. In hindsight, I would have thought that was where everything was going because it just made so much sense.
Mullet proposed that when you take something with function and value, which most applications have whether they’re Web-based or desktop-based, you should create a really engaging experience around it using the “breaking the page” metaphor. That makes total sense because when we interact with the Web, it’s not natural to wait for a page to load. Back then, it was safe to assume that everything was going to move in the rich direction. But then the curveball got thrown, as you mentioned, with the popularity of simple HTML sites like Delicious, Flicker, Twitter and Google Apps. Why are they gaining so much steam?
Are you saying that people are more willing to accept experiential failings as a trade-off for successful utility?
I think it’s a reality. Whether we’re developing using a high-end design or a low-end technique, we need to focus on what the project does and what kinds of needs it actually fulfills at the end of the day. We should think about usability as a continual process."
...In the white paper that I referenced earlier, Mullet talks about this idea of fitness to purpose. A basic example that he gives is: you shouldn’t use a mallet to try to drive a nail and you shouldn’t use a hammer to pound in something that could break. In our discussion today, the same holds true; you really have to think about when to go with a rich Internet application and when not to.