The Age of Invisible Design Has Arrived
By Scott Dadich
The Wright brothers didn’t invent powered, manned flight. By the end of the 19th century, daredevils around the world had already put motors on gliders and launched themselves into the air. Technically these machines could fly—they just tended to crash afterward. But the Wright brothers created a plane that people could actually control, with an effective steering system that let pilots maneuver the craft in midair and land safely. They may not have invented powered flight, but they brought it into the realm of human experience. They designed it.
Ask a thousand experts for their definition of design and you’ll get a thousand different answers. But at root it’s a simple concept: To design something is to make a series of decisions that shape an experience for the user—whether that’s flying an airplane, reading a magazine, or navigating a website.
Red or blue? Steel or spruce? Python or Ruby? These are all design questions, choices that determine how people experience the things we make. And it’s not only aesthetics. Many of these decisions are coded into the way our products operate. Design doesn’t just make things beautiful, it makes them work.
This is not news to designers. In the early 1980s, Dieter Rams laid out his now canonical 10 Principles of Good Design. Rams taught us that great design is as little design as possible. It doesn’t draw attention to itself; it merely allows users to accomplish their tasks with the maximal amount of efficiency and pleasure. At its best, it is invisible.
Rams was talking about designing things you can see and feel. But we’re entering a new era, one in which designers create experiences centering not on physical objects but on the fabric of digital information that surrounds us. That’s the next great challenge for design: weaving the threads of technology, information, and access seamlessly and elegantly into our everyday lives. When a social network automatically checks us into a location, or cashiers can suggest new products based on our purchase history, or our connected TV calls up our favorite shows when we walk into the living room (all things that are either happening now or coming soon), it may seem like magic. But these are carefully designed experiences. They just follow Rams’ dictum—they appear invisible.
We’ve collected three tales of design on the vanguard. You’ll learn about the exciting and challenging new discipline of experience design. You’ll meet a team of Google engineers whose mission to deliver dependable Internet access to the world led them to build a steerable armada of Wi-Fi-enabled balloons. And you’ll encounter a new breed of artists who are using technology to create novel ways for audiences to interact with their work. It all adds up to a thrilling new era for designers—and for all of us.
- Enterprise UX in an “age of invisible design” (dealarchitect.typepad.com)
- As Little Design as Possible by Dieter Rams (ozonedesignlifestyle.com)
- South Korea Grants Construction of Invisible Skyscraper (escapistmagazine.com)
- Space History Photo: 1902 Wright Brothers’ Glider Tests (space.com)