Artemy Lebedev

§ 109. Rhyme and reason

October 20, 2004

Two primary concepts in design are logic and aesthetics. One designer figures out all logical puzzles and arrives at an aesthetic result in the end, whereas the other ends up with the contrary (there’s certainly the third one—tin-eared, ham-handed and mope-eyed dabster, but he’s not the hero of our tale).

As far as interfaces are concerned, aesthetics take a back seat to logic. The latter assertion is not to be construed as advocacy of a utilitarian eyesore. We are only dubious whether we should bother to decorate a corpse. Example of the significance of logic: a home-made motor vehicle is by and large a horrible sight, but the driver knows the principles of driving, like taking a right turn by rotating the wheel to the right. Example of the insignificance of aesthetics: whatever color you paint a Russian car, stuffing its interior with square feet of mahogany and crocodile leather, it won’t run better.

Since the current interface of car driving dates back to the time before we were born, and nothing radically new is in the pipeline, today’s choice items have a predominantly aesthetic appeal: a sport steering wheel, a fur steering wheel, a steering wheel with buttons etc. With computers, cursor is the steering wheel’s counterpart,—a logical, simple and handy invention of a genius. Now you can change its color, too.

But there’s more to life than a wheel and a cursor. Objects and interaction models whose interfaces are yet to be conceived surround us. Every design task is in essence the creation of an interface, a point where a human and an object get in touch.

Logic without aesthetics.

Tokyo Subway Route Map. Bureau of Transportation Tokyo Metropolitan Government, 2004

Many metro maps were drawn based on the principle of the London Underground Map created by  Harry Beck

Tube Map. Transport for London, 2003

Development of interfaces is a fascinating designing process. You may take similar pleasure in handling a complex layout, putting together multidimensional diagrams or solving other logic or aesthetic problems.

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