“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”
-Leonardo DiVinci

In the book “The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm”, the authors discuss one of the greatest industrial design feats in history, the scissors. The purpose of the instrument is evident at first glance, two holes suited perfectly to the human hand which are attached to a pivoted leverage device with razor sharp edges. This is a great example of intuitive design. Upon looking at a pair of scissors for the first time it is evident that fingers go here, squeeze them together and the two sharp blades slide together with a crisp slicing action. Scissor design has evolved. Angles have been adjusted, finger holes have been wrapped in form fitted plastic, the tips have been rounded to prevent accidental loss of eyeballs, etc. But the general design has remained the same forever. Any radical redesigns have failed because, well, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.User Interface Design

Tapping into human intuition is the foundation of user interface (UI) design. UI design differs from most print design in that the user interface is built to provide a means of performing a task. On the web we search, shop, bank, play games, participate in discussion boards, post ads, enter auctions, etc. etc. There could be numerous interactions between the human and the computer to perform any one of these tasks. The primary goal of the UI designer is to provide the human with the most intuitive, simple, efficient means to performing the desired action. The secondary goal is to provide a pleasing visual experience for the viewer. Somewhere mixed in would be the potential to promote a product or enforce a brand.

It Isn’t Print

Generally, print design is a means to convey a message. The designer’s challenges are to gain the attention of the target audience, and then to clearly present the information meant to be communicated. Gaining the viewers attention is the creative part. The print designer has the luxury of a blank canvas and few conformities. Unlike UI design, simplicity is not necessarily implicit in print.

Early in evolution of the web, it was print designers who were first to take a crack at designing websites. Print design principles were the root of these early interface designs. Visual innovation was key while standards were meant to be avoided or broken*. Designers would dream up countless ways to label a site map anything but “site map”. Shopping carts were “buckets”. Navigation systems were designed to intrigue the viewer rather than provide a simple means to navigate (remember pages full of clickable mystery icons?). Soon standards emerged. Consistency and simplicity became an important factor in univeral UI design. Now, the design challenge occurs in how to be innovative while conforming to basic levels of human intuition.

Simplicity Is Key

Here are a few good usability info sites:

Jacob Nielsen is one of the most well known usability experts today. I think he is kind of a kook (and his highly accessible website is horribly ugly).

Chock full of good essays and links.

Jeffrey Zeldman
Author of “The Daily Report”, founder of A List Apart, and all around smart, funny guy.

* Remember “Raygun” Magazine in the mid nineties? Raygun was a gen-x culture magazine. Designer David Carson made quite a splash with his brazen attempt at setting stardard magazine layout and design on its ear. The entire magazine, from cover to cover, was visually stunning. It was a nice peice of art, but its disjointed content, crazy leading, whacked out typefaces and general organization of disorganization made it nearly impossible to read. Other designers loved it. The public cancelled their subscriptions after the first year and it has ceased publication.