Invisible Design

I’ve got a new post up at the Intercom blog, this time about design that’s so good you can’t even see it:

These products don’t want to be noticed at all. They want to be the background noise to your daily routine, infrastructure working away below the surface just like the underground subways, sewers, and cabling of a city.

It also has David Fincher, magic tricks, and that time I was almost killed by a rhino. Check it out.

In some way a follow up to my previous post on flat visual design, the idea this time is that a minimalist/less-is-more/reductive approach to design is often incorrectly seen as an easy route. Making something invisible is really hard. That’s not to say that every product needs to be invisible either: just because your distraction-free writing app tries be all zen doesn’t mean that Call of Duty needs to adopt the same approach. But it’s worth at least considering where on the sliding scale you want your design to sit.

For example, look at the public reaction to the various different wearable thingies.

Most people seem generally cool with the idea of wrist computers like Android Wear and Apple Watch. But the very same crowd seem aghast at the notion of a slightly less discreet eyeball computer like Google Glass. Oh, you think to yourself, maybe there’s a threshold for how visible these devices might be before people start to reject them. Watch equals okay, glasses equals not okay.

But VR devices like Oculus Rift and HoloLens are about as discreet as a bucket on your head, and yet regular people seem genuinely excited to try them out. Why is it that a prism balanced on a sleek titanium frame is considered awful and a giant helmet computer is just fine?

It’s as if Glass fell into a sort of Uncanny Valley of invisibility: not unnoticeable but also not willing to fully accept it’s own prominence. VR on the other hand makes no apologies. VR embraces it’s own brash obtrusiveness. VR says screw everything, strap me onto your goddamn face and let’s go blow up some bad guys. We’ll have to wait and see how everyone really reacts to VR being a part of our lives, but my guess is that this inconsistent initial reaction has something to do with the invisibility of each device. Or rather, it’s inverse corollary: conspicuousness.

I mean, it’s fairly unlikely this fellow is secretly taking a photo of you:

— 03 Mar 2015