The most effective user interfaces aren't invisible. They're sneaky.

The 'best' user interfaces (UIs) are invisible.

Catchy statement, right? After all, UIs like those are the ones you don't notice, cause you're busy getting stuff done.

Except that it isn't true.

The most effective UIs are the ones that make it easy, and even pleasurable for you to do what THEY want you to do.

And what a UI wants you to do may not be what you want to do. (I'll leave the question of 'best for whom' aside for now.)

For example...

Casino UI
Ahh, hello human, I want you to stay with me, and spend money continuously, for as long as possible, so that my owners can profit from you. :D

Human
I want to win! Winning makes me feel great! I'm sure my next big win is just around the corner!
This is rather different from you, the human, saying, I want to stay in this place and spend money continuously, for as long as possible.


Online Shopping UI (E.g. Fashion)
Hi there human, I want you to desire everything I have on offer, and spend as much money as possible, so I'm gonna make buying as easy as possible. As far as I'm concerned, you can't buy too much! :D

Human
I wanna look good to other humans! And I don't wanna be ripped off while I... ooh shiny! I need this! And this! And this! Ooh and this!



Clinical UI (E.g. Doctor)
Hey doc, I want you to accurately record all the relevant information about your patients, so that your patients can get the best care you're able to provide. :D

Human
I want to make sure that I get everything down accurately, so that my colleagues and I are able to help our patients achieve the best outcomes possible.


Usability is ethically neutral - UI design isn't

There's an assumption that UIs that are user-friendly, and 'delightful' have our best interests at heart. From the examples above, this obviously isn't always true. It may not even often be true.

Casino UI is a great example of conflict between what we want, and what the UI wants us to do. We appear to be travelling on the same 'journey', but at the end of the day, the relationship is parasitical at best, and adversarial at worst.

Online Shopping UI has a less toxic relationship with us, as users. At least the UI isn't expressly designed to exploit our human weaknesses for profit. As a merchant's proxy, the UI very reasonably wants to make its goods attractive to us, and make it easy for us to buy stuff.

Clinical UI is what we tend to assume we're getting, even when that trust is unwarranted. It embodies the classic concept of 'best UI'. What Clinical UI wants us to do works hand in hand with what we want to achieve for our patients.

But even if the usability of all three UIs is the same, the ethical contrast between the three UI designs couldn't be more different.

When it comes to usability, it's important to remember that there's no moral value attached to how easy something is to use. Moral value comes into existence when ease-of-use and pleasure is harnessed to directing specific behaviours.

When we look at it that way, it's pretty easy to say: Casino UI is evil, Online Shopping is neutral, and Clinical UI is good.

UX and UI design are essentially the design of systems, products, and interfaces that encourage, reinforce, and reward specific user behaviours.

Whether the outcomes of these specific behaviours are beneficial or harmful to us - as users - is highly dependent on why the product was created in the first place.

So the next time someone tells you that all you do as a designer is 'make pretty buttons', tell them that the pretty buttons are just a small, unthreatening part of designing reward systems for sneaky mind control. ;)

The Flat Design Trend & Silly Catty Designer Behaviour aka I <3 Eli Schiff

Today we are told we can rest assured that visual design is no longer so vacuous and superficial, due to the advent of flat design.

I take a different stance. 'Pure veneer' is not an insult in my book. Quite the opposite, it is the very definition of visual design. Thinking visual design is anything but superficial not only requires a profound level of ignorance, but it indicates an incredibly limited view of what visual communication can accomplish.

These rationalizations by newly turned modern minimalists are incredibly telling. If prominent practitioners are being honest with us in claiming that visual design was plagued by harmful decoration only up until the advent of flat design, then they are admitting that for years, for the history of the GUI, and perhaps even the entire history of design itself, designers have been putting on a sham project in order to dupe corporations.

Worse still, claims of visual design's insignificance tell us that design leaders never took their craft seriously. It truly undermines their credibility that it took the arrival of flat design for them to treat the entire spectrum of roles in product design with respect. Of course, as soon as that happened, they graduated from respecting traditional interface design principles.

This so-called 'maturation' in the vast majority of the design industry is in this way a major indictment of the professional history of these practitioners. If anyone should be condemned, it should not be those accused of the crime of visual design, but those practitioners who treat their job as frivolous.

Perhaps the design world breeds a form of narcissism due to its nature as a winner-take-all economy. That would explain the logic of this race to the bottom in which designers feel compelled to attack their craft before others assume they are 'bullshitters' too. In the words of Dr. Sam Vaknin:

By pre-empting society’s punitive measures and by self-flagellating, the narcissist is actually saying: 'If I am to suffer unjustly, it will be only by my own hand and no one else's.'

It is this masochistic status-striving that I find so ugly in this industry. That he who discredits his own craft is the most pious. That the most respected designer is the one who disowns beauty. This perpetual need to be the first to assign irrelevancy to one's own professional practice is the true impetus behind much of the puritanism of modern minimalist avant gardism.

- From Eli Schiff's last article in an amazing 5 part series, Fall of the Designer

Details way better than I could have how the unnerving thing about 'flat is the bestest and the coolestestest and the maturestestest' is in truth paying only lip service to serving our users' needs, while actually serving as a designer's wank.

Go read it, read it all!