Homogeneous Design

March 24th 2016

Yaron Schoen published this amazing piece last week, In Defense of Homogeneous Design and I honestly just want to quote the whole thing...

Yaron's article was written, I believe, in response to this piece, The Unbearable Homogeneity of Design. And I have to agree with Yaron's take on the matter; but after reading comments across the web it seems like his opinions really rubbed some people the wrong way...

Digital product design isn’t abstract visual expression. It’s a conversation framework between a human and a computer.

I don't think Yaron is talking about homogeneity in terms of culture or gender or race or background or social class...I don't know him personally, but I don't think he's coming from a place of privilege or "better-than-thou" product standards. No, homogeneity in design is about creating experiences that people can understand, that will allow them to interact with computers in ways that are comfortable, familiar and efficient. Defaults are defaults for a reason: people know how to use them, people know what to expect when they click on this or tap on that.

And that's a really powerful, beautiful thing that we should be thankful for (and take advantage of) as designers.

It's why the Human Interface Guidelines exist. This is why Material Design exists. They're frameworks to help you build products that people will know how to use.†

Character is super important in a product, but a lot of that character isn’t only in its visual design. In fact, a lot of it isn’t. It’s in the micro interactions, it’s in the copy, it’s in the nuance.

Some say the world would be boring if every app just used OS defaults. I think that's crap; OS defaults help to create a world where people can accomplish things faster, with less cognitive overhead, without having to learn a new system, without having to guess and make mistakes.

There is still so much freedom in digital product design to elevate usability and clarity, functionality and utility. Introducing new components alongside defaults can help us all in the pursuit of that ever-elusive delightful experience.

It seems that the most-common designer-y reaction I hear to statements like this are: "But how will we push the boundaries? If we all conform to Material and HIG and defaults, design will never advance!"

And I don't disagree, but: let's iterate our way towards that future.

Pull to refresh was a small - and incredibly innovative - piece of a very simple app. Loren didn't have to design an entirely-new app experience just to introduce PtR. No, it was iterative; a small push towards a better user experience. And now that experience is universally understood on touch devices around the world...that's mind-blowing.

And while I think game-changing interactions like PtR won't come around very often, there is still so much untapped opportunity to iterate on the defaults in order to improve products for billions of people. Motion, color, long-press, 3D-touch, haptic...there are so many tools that are still underutilized and underdeveloped in digital product design.

Homogeneity is great. It means we can all go through our day-to-day tasks without more added friction. It means that, as designers, we don't have to reinvent the wheel every time we sit down in front of a screen. It gives us the room to get creative with new paradigms and tools and inputs without people giving up on our products.

So let's embrace that. And of course, we should keep an open eye for the cracks and flaws in the defaults that will inevitably emerge as the world changes, as technology changes, and as we (as humans) change.

Related: The Boring Designer

† And don't even get me started on accessibility...

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