I recently read a piece on Core77 entitled The Simple Truth by Nick Fosta. In it he pushes back against the current design trend to simplify all the devices with which we interact. Think of the seamless interactions that we’ve come to expect from smart phones, computers, and appliances. He makes the point that the fundamental reason to simplify is to increase efficiency (and thus productivity).
While this is a good goal for many products, we as designers often overlook an alternative goal- instead of designing for simplicity of interface, sometimes we need to design to maximize enjoyment of interface. Often there is delight in learning to use a new device, and peeling back the layers of complexity to discover seemingly hidden truths about the product. In discovering the nuance of a product, the user develops a personal relationship with it, and thus a deeper emotional connection.
This is not to say that products should be designed to be difficult to use. Instead, we need to remember that efficiency is not the only goal. Creating products that foster mastery, and craft gives the user room to develop a personal relationship with a product.
Consider craftsman and artists. They spend years honing difficult skill sets and ultimately wield their craft with a seeming effortlessness. Behind that seeming ease, though, are years of difficult training on tools, or with tasks that are not designed with maximum simplicity. The craftsman is intimately familiar with the intricacies of his tools. The artist learns how their medium reacts differently to slightly varied techniques. The result of their years of training is not only a skill set that produces magnificent works, but perhaps more importantly a relationship with their craft that is personal, private, and that gives them an intense sense of pride.
Our job as designers is to develop products that give their users delight. Whether that delight comes from a sublimely simple interface, or from an interface deliberately developed to inspire deep interaction and learning, our job is to make users happy. Mr. Fosta’s article is a reminder that we must not become fixated on one set of design goals and try to apply them to all designs. We must always remember the most important tenant of design- remember the users, and design to delight them.