Over the past months, every interface lab worth its salt had three words in mouth, three little words they were screaming to their unsuspecting public: “Less is more”. Interfaces needed to be cleaner, have less buttons and, if buttons there were, these needed to be bigger, simpler, brighter. Dubbed by some the Fischer-Price style, this new kind of web interface has spread to the darker recesses of the web — even .Mac now sports big orange buttons, so big they look like coasters.
In a way, this trend is laudable and one can only applaud a genuine desire to simplify technology, make it more accessible, easier to grasp and use for a larger public. The web, traditionally driven by little enticing point and click methods, has seen the advent of smooth interfaces, real-time updates and even visual effects, some of them quite stunning. Over the past weeks, the web got pampered in the virtual day spa of interface design, shedding its former pimply appearance in favor of a tanned, gradient-filled, DOM-powered skin.
Yet, I cannot help but wonder how healthy this all is, or at least up to which extent it remains so. Indeed, no matter how simple an interface is, how short the user licensing agreement looks, how straightforward the billing system seems, there is always someone behind it pull the strings, someone who knows all the tricks, all the issues that can arise. That person, by making an interface or an application simple, can help us use it and alleviate the need for training. By making it too simple, by convincing us everything needs to be like that, is pushing us towards our demise, turning users into a group of blind followers, indoctrinated and, above all, convinced they cannot understand anything by themselves.
Am I advocating nonsensical interfaces? No! The opposite of simple, of spartan, isn’t complex or nonsensical. It can be full-featured, comprehensive, extensive without becoming painful to use or impossible to figure out. Forgetting that essential trait is opening the door to a whole new range of problems, throwing ourselves in the arms of unscrupulous people who are all too ready to provide us with ready-made, seemingly easy solutions.