Is Good Design Making us Stupid?

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Written by Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
May 27, 2014


Jeremy Keith writes:

Convenience. Ease of use. Seamlessness.

On the face of it, these all seem like desirable traits in digital and physical products alike. But they come at a price. When we design, we try to do the work so that the user doesn’t have to. We do the thinking so the user doesn’t have to. Don’t make the user think. But taken too far, that mindset becomes dangerous.

Marshall McLuhan said that every extension is also an amputution. As we augment the abilities of people to accomplish their tasks, we should be careful not to needlessly curtail what they can do:

Here we are, a society hell bent on extending our reach through phones, through computers, through “seamless integration” and yet all along the way we’re unwittingly losing perhaps as much as we gain. The mediums we create are built to carry out specific tasks efficiently, but by doing so they have a tendency to restrict our options for accomplishing that task by other means. We begin to learn the “One” way to do it, when in fact there are infinite ways. The medium begins to restrict our thinking, our imagination, our potential.

The idea of “seamlessness” as a desirable trait in what we design is one that bothers me. Technology has seams. By hiding those seams, we may think we are helping the end user, but we are also making a conscience choice to deceive them (or at least restrict what they can do).

Hmm…food for thought, but perhaps along the same line of reasoning as “Is Google making us stupid?”

I do see Jeremy’s point, but if we treat technology as tool that helps the user achieve his goals, “seamlessness” just becomes the grease that makes achieving that goal a whole lot quicker.

Via: Adactio

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May 28, 14 – 3:12 pm

Not so much stupid… I’d say lazy. Good design is making users lazy as they expect us to do design in a way that we do all of the work for them.

Jun 06, 14 – 8:01 am

I had this conversation 10 years ago about engineering… “engineers are making people dumber” I don’t know if i am to agree or disagree because I have been reading into history about our information ignorance. Because I think she is arguing about people who grew up between 1950-1990 before internet but I prefer to think about people living in 1500s to 1800s before the enlightenment era to question whether we are more dumber or ignorant.

Daniel Louder
Jun 10, 14 – 1:02 pm

“Are automobiles making us dumb in horse husbandry?”
It largely depends on how you define the terms (as with most things) but I would argue that the most useful answer is “Yes, but it’s far better than the alternative.”

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