Objectivity, Subjectivity, and Dialog

The theory of design, the motive behind it, shines through the product, corporation, and culture that surround it.

I've recently been tuning my thoughts to the "story" channel, seeing the world through the lens that alerts me to the nuance of story that is available in situation.

Steve Jobs and Richard Pratt are two of a number of influences that stand out. 

Steve used the art of calligraphy to help influence the design of typography on the Mac. This laid a foundation for the intersection of industrial machine and art in computer design, one we continue to explore to this day. Using this model, he worked to elevate our understanding of beauty by making it standard across his product range, and worked to ensure that considerable resources were spent on its success. 

Steve's story is one where objectivity is used to raise the common man's appreciation to a new level. Of course, this can also be approached as snobbery. The utilitarian viewpoint counters that utility and function is more important than form, so I should not waste resources on beauty.  Steve wanted to bring us up to his level of appreciation for art in mechanistic design.

Microsoft's computers for many years worked to bring the computer down to our level - a level of competition, free market, lots of players, and a more open playing field. This focus on lists of features that would meet corporate architect checklists, on every man making his own way, his own application for his own purpose, results in more chaos and confusion, but in the chaos there is all the more money to be made by being a voice of reason over the noise.

One of the more unfortunate fall-outs of this more subjective model, where everyone can be right whenever they try hard enough, is that the corporate baby-boomer generation saw technology on the curve of hope-in, hope-dashed. Computers were going to make us more efficient, they were going to make the world more sharable, more doable, and more capable. Ten to twenty years later, they see how computers often aren't those things. And so, they now have a bitter taste of what computers can or should do.

User (Human) experience has come into the fray over the past many years. The model in user experience is a more balanced approach that says that authoritative dialog (discussed by Richard Pratt) is a productive way to have the conversation. An authoritative dialog is one where there is someone versed in design who maintains the ability to design fully, but who is dialoging with everyman to ensure that the results are not snobby, esoteric, or high-and-mighty, but designed with good, care, and attention to detail. Using the dialog, we can help those who are afraid that this next piece of technology will let them down (like the last) to discover that there is a way to infuse the human element into the design more completely, such that a more positive spin is introduced.

The authoritative dialog model, however, is the most challenging to introduce. It involves the hard work of discussing with people in order to pick out nuances, prejudices, and observations that are meaningful away from those that are not. It is truly an art to be able to see through the noise to the nuggets of use underneath. This is what makes this skill so difficult and so valuable.  In the search for a better digital design, we try to support the mission of useful, helpful, kind and gentle, peaceful machines.


Nathanael OttoComment