Invisible Futures

Image: Flickr /   Herr Olsen

Image: Flickr / Herr Olsen

BERG Creative Director Timo Arnall, who's work I've admired for years, published a really important post this morning on his blog, Elastic Space, critiquing the 'best user interface is no user interface' idea. This meme, encouraged by enthusiasts and creators of our increasingly touch-and gesture-filled world, suggests that designers and technologists are doing us a favor through their elegant elimination of seams from the interactions around us. He says: 

"Invisible design propagates the myth that technology will ‘disappear’ or ‘just get out of the way’ rather than addressing the qualities of interface technologies that can make them difficult or delightful.
Intentionally hiding the phenomena and materiality of interfaces, smoothing over the natural edges, seams and transitions that constitute all technical systems, entails a loss of understanding and agency for both designers and users of computing. Lack of understanding leads to uncertainty and folk-theories that hinder our ability to use technical systems, and clouds the critique of technological developments."

Having spent a lot of time recently coming back to the idea that futures need affordances. We need to see, feel and even make the seams ourselves, and for enough people to understand the potential (and potential fail points) of proposed futures, we need the ability to interact with them on an exploratory basis. Otherwise, like "invisible design," we allow ourselves to be sold touchless, seamless, stateless, fail-proof, cloud-based futures, where our vital statistics are feature-sets and specs. Where (metaphorically) no glass gets smudged, no interface fails, no security is breached, and every EULA is in our best interest. We end up waiting in line to see the video of the demo, queue up to snatch these invisible futures off the shelf, unbox them excitedly, and plug ourselves into them. 

Futures, like interfaces, have consequences. They have shape, form and weight. Thin or invisible futures have thin or invisible outcomes. But their consequences have the ultimate materiality.

More to be said on this at FutureEverything. Thanks, Timo, for helping me reconnect these thoughts in my head.