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Invisible design: why less is more

Emmet Connolly
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Our senses are deeply attuned to detect and react to all sorts of behaviors, and as a consequence, obnoxious or bad design elicits negative feelings. The modern trends make it abundantly clear that when it comes to digital products, less is more.

Suspension of disbelief

  • Just like subtle effects in movies contribute to an overall sense of being immersed in their world, digital products should blend seamlessly into the users’ daily lives to the point that they forget there’s a product at all.

Three levels of invisible design

  • Aesthetic invisibility
    • The visual design of our devices, and in turn, our UIs has continued to reduce in complexity
  • Interactive invisibility
    • Designers work hard to remove a feature from your line of sight only to surface it at just the right moment
    • Chromebooks silently update themselves while you sleep, mapping apps automatically recalculate your route when you veer off-course
  • Product invisibility
    • These types of products don’t want to be noticed, they want to be the background noise to your daily routine
    • Products like Fitbit, that tracks your activity, Nest, that monitors your environment continually in anticipation of an anomaly, are prime examples of this design

Indistinguishable from magic

  • Design for the fact that our users carry a consistent set of expectations about how the world works.
  • Subtle effects like the depth of a device when designing how UI layers should overlap and cast shadows are likely to go unnoticed, but it helps make the UI seem like it belongs in the environment.

Don’t make me blink

  • Humans despise complexity and chores, opening up the possibility of services that run continually but invisibly, freeing up people’s brain cycles to pay attention to more interesting things.
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