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Author Topic: Web Debate: Give Us Simplicity So We Can Ignore You  (Read 5755 times)
mouser
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« on: October 10, 2010, 11:16:31 AM »

Nice summary of (and links to) some recent contrarian debates about simplicity in user interface design by Don Norman.

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It’s cruel, really – companies are told over and over that “we want simple CMS.”  Yet, when this is built, no one buys it because it doesn’t have enough features.  Not only do they not buy it, they actively disdain it and are perhaps even a little insulted by its arrogance in thinking something that simple could handle their sophisticated needs.  (Even if it could.)

As a bonus to all this, Norman got into a streetfight with the guys over at 37signals about this.  They, of course, believe in ruthlessly stripping away features.  They took exception, and Norman proceeds to eviscerate them (rightly or wrongly)..

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« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2010, 01:26:23 PM »

It seems to me that the happy medium here would be to provide all the features of a full featureset, but make them ALL able to be turned on or off (maybe only at installation, but still). 
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Armando
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« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2010, 08:47:54 AM »

It seems to me that the happy medium here would be to provide all the features of a full featureset, but make them ALL able to be turned on or off (maybe only at installation, but still). 

I completely agree. Plus Advanced /Simple modes, or something like that. But then, the simple mode must be slick and working for most situations, otherwise it doesn't work and advanced/intermediary becomes the de facto modes. This happens in many applications where "simple mode" becomes "stupid mode".
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« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2010, 01:19:55 PM »

Heh, this hits right at home. I've been denied a listing for my program on one of the download sites, because it did not have "enough features".

On Windows people actually do expect complex UI. If it's simple, they feel cheated. Likewise the website cannot be clean, it must have at least two feature lists, preferably a dozen items long, set in 7px font with half of words in bold and one third - in italic. That is obviously a true sign of the program that has so much to offer it is just bursting on the seams... That's the state of the affairs that leads to very specific if unfortunate expectations.

Keeping it simple is a major uphill battle. Ideal situation is where 37 signals are - they have the momentum, people come to them for the simplicity because they know that it actually works. That last part is what takes an effort - trying to convince average users that "less is more" and that they don't really need to 100s of configuration options to get the job done. Windows users that is, of course. On the Mac the situation is very different.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2010, 01:21:46 PM by apankrat » Logged
Armando
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« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2010, 02:47:37 PM »

Keeping it simple is a major uphill battle.

Agreed, and for almost everything (in life...). Trying to keep things as simple as possible AND both functional and relatively flexible is the hardest thing.

That said, for software I usually don't mind "large" amount of features/parameters. If it's well implemented and "that complexity" can be managed with "relative simplicity". Of course this needs to be proportional to the results obtained with the software. Sometimes it's not...

So in the end I'm looking at the feature list.... not so much at the amount of features, but if the features I need are there, well implemented and easy to use. Sometimes I'll want many things integrated in one package, other times I won't mind splitting the features into several little software if those can play well together -- however, this is often a problem and it adds even more complexity than using only one more complex software.


Anyway, I guess I'm just stating the obvious...
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« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2010, 03:32:43 PM »

I am of the opinion that there is no need for it to be complex, but something like a CMS (from the OP) is relatively complex by nature if it is going to be useful.  At least it appears that way to my non-programmer mind.  The big problem I think many see is how can something so simple be so powerful?  Since I am in IT, I see it everyday, but not so much the average person.  They gripe and groan and bemoan every intrusive popup; but if they aren't there, they think it isn't working.  This lends itself to problem number 2, and that is valuing the software.  If they don't think it is working, they have a tough time justifying the price of the software.  Indeed, many people can't even place a value on their data in the first place, making many pieces of software "not worth it" to them even though it may well be.  Your backup software is a particularly good example of a type of software few people appreciate the value of.  Well, they do after a catastrophic failure, but until then...

Armando hit on another point.  Far too often, society deems more is better.  Therefore, more features at the same price automatically make a product better in many people's minds (I fight myself on this point far more than I like to admit).  Really it should be based on functionality, speed, flexibility, and/or elegance (for lack of a better term), but these are rarely tested, let alone judged.  I suppose part of the problem here is the marketing always shows a partial judgement in favor of the marketed product - there really is no consistent, reliable source for data.  Moreover, there is no separation of when one product shines over another in the same space.  These are pretty much left to the consumer.  Since that is the case, the bigger advertising budget and the better word of mouth marketers get the lion's share of the market regardless of quality of product (Symantec comes to mind here for me...).  My point is, it isn't necessarily the simplicity or the speed or whatever that makes it difficult - it is the marketing.  Most companies market on features and tweakability.   You just need to market on simplicity, speed, flexibility, and UI elegance - just like Apple does for the Mac.  (Since you mentioned it, I thought I would show you them as an example  Thmbsup)
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« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2010, 06:44:44 PM »

Armando hit on another point.  Far too often, society deems more is better. 

Then they go out and buy an ultra high performance vehicle and get killed in (or on) it a week later (seen it happed too many times).

Therefore, more features at the same price automatically make a product better in many people's minds (I fight myself on this point far more than I like to admit). 

You're spot on the vilify the marketing companies here - The right tool for the job does exactly what you need, and only what you need with out a bunch of attachments & adapters that get lost or just in the way.

Really it should be based on functionality, speed, flexibility, and/or elegance (for lack of a better term), but these are rarely tested, let alone judged.

There is no better term. And they should be mandatory as tests. Form Follows Function - I don't give a damn if it's shiny, does it work?!? There is true beauty in the design of a device that does a specific job well and with little effort. Ever try to do any serious work with a Swiss Army knife? Ha! Sure its got all sorts of widgets to do everything imaginable, but none of them are all that effective independently because they're so freaking tiny and the rest are all piled up in the way.
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« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2010, 01:14:43 PM »

There is no better term. And they should be mandatory as tests. Form Follows Function - I don't give a damn if it's shiny, does it work?!?
Function comes first, but form is still important - even considering functionally equivalent user interfaces (ie, the exact same types of widgets, menu items and toolbars), I'd prefer the "prettier" of two GUIs (as long as it didn't mean insanely higher system requirements, of course). I'm not talking about a lot of glitzy effects (even though a few touches can be "sexy"), but things like "Win9x" look (ugly bitmaps & icons, toolbars where items have button borders, et cetera) vs. prettier & cleaner XP (or even Vista+) looks. While I'm not a fan of Apple's oversimplification and the-user-must-be-a-moron attitude, I do think they get a lot of things right in their interface design smiley
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« Reply #8 on: October 22, 2010, 07:43:08 PM »

f0dder... I didn't say form was irrelevant, I said it was secondary.

I saw a commercial for a luxury car last night (Lexus I think), and they were with great fan fair heralding it many adornments. One of which was that it had (Gasp...!) genuine silver dust embedded in a real wood dash. ...And I thought to myself, wow... Thats... Well ... Well it's F'ing Stupid really.

Yes Apple does have some interesting UI design ideas - whats under them is frequently poo IMO - But when setting up an RDP connection on a clients iPad I was genuinely impressed with how smoothly it worked. Even when connecting on a nonstandard port.

It's the style over substance crap that makes me cringe.
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« Reply #9 on: October 22, 2010, 07:44:34 PM »

Discussing form vs function in broad terms is like discussing brain vs intelligence. "Intelligence comes first, but brain is still important". Yes, sure.

There would be no form without function... and the reverse. Really, it's not that one is important, and that the other is err.....also important. They're both essential and absolutely inseparable. And since there's no universally accepted model to evaluate great function or form in general (both are subject to the individual's preferences and psychology, the various world cultures, etc.), the targeted users/receivers, etc. should be the main perspective conditioning both.

I.e :  Put more weight on one, less on the other if you want, but in the end it's either just a matter of personal preference, users preferences, culture, historical context, live/die, flunk/pass the test, etc.

You could try building something that tries to be "all form", but it'll still have the function to show something that's "all form" (and it'll be some kind of performative contradiction  embarassed, as described by J. Habermas). Same for the reverse, of course.
« Last Edit: October 22, 2010, 07:46:44 PM by Armando » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: October 22, 2010, 09:45:25 PM »

It's the style over substance crap that makes me cringe.
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« Reply #11 on: October 22, 2010, 10:37:37 PM »

The brain is a container where intelligence is stored. Simple. Complicating that would just be a philosophically pedantic exercises.

The hammer - arguably the first tool invented - has had many forms. But it has survived and is still in (vigorous) use today because of its function. They are still to this day very simple devices (chunk of metal on a stick). They are not particularly attractive ... However they are incredibly (functional...) handy for all sorts of things.

The function if a statue is it form, its purpose is to catch the eye and dazzle the mind. But, it doesn't really do anything, it's a statue.

Tools on the other hand, have to (function) perform a specific task in an efficient and (preferably) effortless manner. A shiny tool, that doesn't work...is scrap metal.
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« Reply #12 on: October 23, 2010, 01:14:15 AM »

The brain is a container where intelligence is stored. Simple. Complicating that would just be a philosophically pedantic exercises.

Really? A few neuroscientists I know don't  find it that simple... nor would they agree with that metaphor. If you pick a few books on intelligence and consciousness (whether these are from a more materialistic point of view or not doesn't matter at all -- but it's probably better to balance point of views). Intelligence isn't a substance that's "contained". Not as current research explains it anyway. But you're allowed to find good science pedantic if you wish.

Quote
The function if a statue is it form, its purpose is to catch the eye and dazzle the mind. But, it doesn't really do anything, it's a statue.

Really ? that's a very assured statement. I don't want to sound harsh, but that's a pretty narrow view of what art does and its function(s)... Whether you approach it through sociology, anthropology, aesthetics or... Pure brain science. And, believe me, it's not about pedantry and philosophy. Not that I have anything against philosophy. If you want a few article/book titles on the matter...  smiley

In any case, my point was simply that, without any precise aim, discussing form vs function becomes quickly a circular debate. "Software" is a large field and there is a huge variety of software consumer with incredibly various needs. What form and function for whom ? When ? Sure a shiny tool that doesn't work might be scrap metal, but that's taking the opposite end of the spectrum as a justification. It's a given : nobody wants something that's either "useless" (a least for them) or "incomprehensible" (for them).
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« Reply #13 on: October 23, 2010, 09:32:41 AM »

The brain is a container where intelligence is stored. Simple. Complicating that would just be a philosophically pedantic exercises.

Really? A few neuroscientists I know don't  find it that simple... nor would they agree with that metaphor. If you pick a few books on intelligence and consciousness (whether these are from a more materialistic point of view or not doesn't matter at all -- but it's probably better to balance point of views). Intelligence isn't a substance that's "contained". Not as current research explains it anyway. But you're allowed to find good science pedantic if you wish.

High school debating class 101, brandish a few experts and try to shame your opponent into silence. And/or whip them into the wall with semantical sideline. smiley The brain is an organ, it can be located, examined, analyzed, and clearly defined. Intelligence, intellect, memories not so much. You can think on your feet, but you can't think with them...that's done with some other part of the body where ones life's experiences are kept.

Quote
The function if a statue is it form, its purpose is to catch the eye and dazzle the mind. But, it doesn't really do anything, it's a statue.

Really ? that's a very assured statement. I don't want to sound harsh, but that's a pretty narrow view of what art does and its function(s)... Whether you approach it through sociology, anthropology, aesthetics or... Pure brain science. And, believe me, it's not about pedantry and philosophy. Not that I have anything against philosophy. If you want a few article/book titles on the matter...  smiley

Granted art as a collective can define the mindset of a time period ... Which is serving a function. But that's a side effect of viewing all of it (Painting, sculpture, music, etc) collectively at once. Individual pieces sit there, are looked at, and if done well convey/express a feeling that the artist was trying to share. What does it do? It's pretty, catches the eye, and causes lively debate amongst folks that are sure they know what the artist was thinking/trying to express.

However when there is real work to be done. It is highly unlikely that a job Foreman looked through their tools and exclaimed "Shit! My statue is missing! Now we'll never get this job done..."

In any case, my point was simply that, without any precise aim, discussing form vs function becomes quickly a circular debate. "Software" is a large field and there is a huge variety of software consumer with incredibly various needs. What form and function for whom ? When ? Sure a shiny tool that doesn't work might be scrap metal, but that's taking the opposite end of the spectrum as a justification. It's a given : nobody wants something that's either "useless" (a least for them) or "incomprehensible" (for them).

Theory vs. Practice. In theory anything is possible, which is why academics tend to end up in circular discussions. Practice on the other hand, tends to rather clearly define the limitations that were being missed in conversation.

It's only circular if you have no context. Tools are devices that perform work that we want done. Sure, pretty gets it off the shelf and out of the stores into the garage. But if it don't work ... It's not going to stay in the garage...It's going out to the curb on its way to the dump.
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« Reply #14 on: October 23, 2010, 10:22:50 AM »

In any case, my point was simply that, without any precise aim, discussing form vs function becomes quickly a circular debate. "Software" is a large field and there is a huge variety of software consumer with incredibly various needs. What form and function for whom ? When ? Sure a shiny tool that doesn't work might be scrap metal, but that's taking the opposite end of the spectrum as a justification. It's a given : nobody wants something that's either "useless" (a least for them) or "incomprehensible" (for them).

Theory vs. Practice. In theory anything is possible, which is why academics tend to end up in circular discussions. Practice on the other hand, tends to rather clearly define the limitations that were being missed in conversation.

It's only circular if you have no context. Tools are devices that perform work that we want done. Sure, pretty gets it off the shelf and out of the stores into the garage. But if it don't work ... It's not going to stay in the garage...It's going out to the curb on its way to the dump.

The thing that gets me is that simplicity is in the eye of the beholder... umm... user.  What's simple to me might not be simple to someone else.  And what's simple to someone else might be a nightmare to me.  Same with form and function.  Even with user groups and usability testing and user acceptance- you're only dealing with a subset of users.  That's why there can never be a hard target for these things.  There's a reason that there's a saying that you can't please everyone all the time.  And it's one of the reasons that I think that *most* reviews/critiques are flawed- they don't say this outright and the sheeple that read them in most cases take these reviews at face value without taking this into consideration, which can reduce someone's bottom line undeservedly, just because one person that happens to have influence doesn't like it.
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« Reply #15 on: October 23, 2010, 05:01:40 PM »

High school debating class 101, brandish a few experts and try to shame your opponent into silence. And/or whip them into the wall with semantical sideline. smiley

I didn't brandish any expert but re-opened a debate you actually tried to close with simple statements which, IMO, aren't true enough. Said that a few neuroscientists friends wouldn't agree... FYI, the debate isn't closed and explanations not as clear cut as you seem to believe.

BTW : attack/ridicule/... your "opponent" (your own word) personally to try to gain superiority (--> "high school 101") -- "Argumentum ad odium" or "Appeal to ridicule"... Pick your poison. So  you see...  Wink


The brain is an organ, it can be located, examined, analyzed, and clearly defined. Intelligence, intellect, memories not so much. You can think on your feet, but you can't think with them...that's done with some other part of the body where ones life's experiences are kept.

Is this to justify why you chose the "brain as container for intelligence" metaphor ? Sure, ok....

But that doesn't say/explain exactly what is "more important", the brain (as such) or intelligence. Does intelligence-consciousness ("function", "content") influence-shape neurological patterns or are biological structures conditioning intelligence without any feedback loop ? I could spend the afternoon finding studies to illustrate how NOT clearcut the relationship is... But I won't. I'll just restate that the brain/intelligence relationship is not a simple "one way" one. (err...This is not an attempt to silence you, I'm just repeating what I read as I actually like that subject.)

In any case, I'm not sure what would you gain if you were able to prove that function (let's say... intelligence) is a by product of form (the big shinny brain). Or even the reverse. Which is my point exactly. Moot point.

They're both equally essential and important.

Wink


Granted art as a collective can define the mindset of a time period ... Which is serving a function. But that's a side effect of viewing all of it (Painting, sculpture, music, etc) collectively at once. Individual pieces sit there, are looked at, and if done well convey/express a feeling that the artist was trying to share. What does it do? It's pretty, catches the eye, and causes lively debate amongst folks that are sure they know what the artist was thinking/trying to express.

However when there is real work to be done. It is highly unlikely that a job Foreman looked through their tools and exclaimed "Shit! My statue is missing! Now we'll never get this job done..."

I wouldn't have any problem saying that I agree, but I don't. And not only I don't, but I can tell you that it's at best very partial.  Not to mention other sophisms you use like "real work", as if there was such a thing and that art was a "lesser" kind of work, or... life form.  huh

Art serves many functions. Very briefly, as all this has nothing to do with the topic here :

1- From the point of view of the artist (amateur of professional) /creator : It allows individuals to express complex experiences, whether these are purely sensorial, emotional, conceptual (skipping a few experiential domains here for the sake of simplicity) or often a mix of all of these. That type of expression is a fundamental aspect of human nature. Humans have been involved in artistic expression since the dawn of humanity -- probably to keep their sanity, cope with the mysteries and harshness of the universe, or simply to be a bit happier. Of course, culture (or more specifically art), religion and science haven't always been as differentiated as they are today, but that's another matter entirely.

2- From the point of view of the "receiver" : It allows individuals to both discover new important realities, enlarge their experiential palette (an important step towards greater acceptance of both alien inner and outer phenomena), enjoy what some have called the "aesthetic feeling",  take a break life's harshness (if there's any) and replenish/have fun, reinforce both their most intimate identity(ies) and less intimate one, like the one(s) linked to religion, family, etc. And yes, even if I have no idea what this has to do with the debate (and how devaluating art's importance correlates with what you previously said), but "My statue is missing! Now we'll never get this job done..." could actually  be frequent in many cultures/belief system where art hasn't been dissociated from the other aspects of life. Only, it's not your case, but this isn't generalisable fact ... Laugh if you want, ridicule it, but it won't remove the fact that it isn't that rare...

3- From the point of view of society : it helps it, both internally (culturally) and externally (structurally), to function properly as a whole and it's fundamental in helping to shape major social habits, small group identity (think about teenagers and their music... And how important it is to them), political ideologies and so on.

4- It helps scientists to discover new ways of thinking about reality, and new ways of studying it (you wouldn't like it if I dropped researchers names here but I can if you want).


Now, it could be that this small list of functions isn't long enough for you. But... I won't be able to do anything about that...


Theory vs. Practice. In theory anything is possible, which is why academics tend to end up in circular discussions. Practice on the other hand, tends to rather clearly define the limitations that were being missed in conversation.

It's only circular if you have no context. Tools are devices that perform work that we want done. Sure, pretty gets it off the shelf and out of the stores into the garage. But if it don't work ... It's not going to stay in the garage...It's going out to the curb on its way to the dump.

This is exactly what I said. If you reread my last posts : the context ("precise aim" [...] "What form and function for whom ? When ? ") is missing from many posts.

The topic was revolving around "simplicity" in CMS... This evolved towards other topics, fine. But this is when I said that the discussion was becoming circular and vague as there's no (in this case) specific UI case (targeting specific users) to discuss.

Theory vs practice ? Maybe.... depending on your definition of what a "theory" is, of course. For me it's more "A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena". I imagine you meant "A belief that can guide behavior" or "speculation" ?

In any case, in my life, I certainly saw very different UIs depending on the targeted users... And this isn't speculation. Which doesn't mean that many prevalent UI concepts/techniques aren't shaping most GUIs... Interfaces have often more commonalities than differences. However, as we all know, the devil is -- quite often -- in the details. This is why I used the expressions : "precise aim" [...] "What form and function for whom ? When ? ". What you rightly (IMO) named "context".  smiley

The thing that gets me is that simplicity is in the eye of the beholder... umm... user.  What's simple to me might not be simple to someone else.  And what's simple to someone else might be a nightmare to me.  Same with form and function. Even with user groups and usability testing and user acceptance- you're only dealing with a subset of users. That's why there can never be a hard target for these things.  There's a reason that there's a saying that you can't please everyone all the time.  And it's one of the reasons that I think that *most* reviews/critiques are flawed- they don't say this outright and the sheeple that read them in most cases take these reviews at face value without taking this into consideration, which can reduce someone's bottom line undeservedly, just because one person that happens to have influence doesn't like it.

+ 43  Wink

Yes, targeted users is both a point of departure (humans aren't good hard targets... They're rather soft Wink ), and can also help constitute a "check list" for future improvement and testing. What we could call "arbitrary" choices must be made along the path. Fortunately, there are forums so that developers can get a feel for what can't be digested, and what can't by the user base.

As for critics' partiality (and this is true of any form of critique...)... Yup, in most case, especially if the review doesn't adhere to really strict parameters, it doesn't have much value... For example, making a buying decision when n=1 (or ... 2... if one considers that a software critic = 2) always means taking a risk. Comparing reviews is compulsory to make a more informed decision (errr... hermeneutics 101?). The more reviews, the less risks are taken, but also the more complex it gets in terms of data analysis.

And so it goes for the "targeted users" : the fewer to please, the easier it is to plan the GUIs structure... As soon as the number grows, the reverse phenomena is observed. Well, seems to be.

[EDIT : posted what I wrote instead of previewing it... Of course had to correct some English mistakes -- the beauty of second/third languages... Wink]
« Last Edit: October 23, 2010, 05:19:56 PM by Armando » Logged

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« Reply #16 on: October 24, 2010, 02:57:28 PM »

Okay, let us suffice as to say that debating analogies isn't getting anywhere and see about getting back to our original "issue"...That being my assertion that form follows function.

While there are many types of items, I'm going to focus on only two:
1. Items/devices that perform or make easier a specific task (tools/machinery/conveyances).
2. Items/decorations who's purpose is primarily aesthetic (Painting/sculpture/music).

I'm going to take a short side trip here to thank wraith808 for clarifying something of a distinction that seems to be mudding things a bit. When I say function, I mean does it - by way of its purpose for existing - correctly perform the task it was designed to accomplish. This is as apposed to it being functional in regard to it simplicity of design/usage (i.e. Is its usage really as bloody obvious as the designer intended it to be.) Given that I was tyeing simplicity to elegance - which tracks well depending on how you think about it - primarily because simpler designs (with less moving parts) tend to fail less often than complex mechanisms that require constant adjustment of exacting tolerances. As an example I'll use the (original) Trojan Horse. In essence it was an idiot simple idea (hide a bunch of guys in a statue). However given the time and complexity of the siege strategies of the day ... it was also quite an elegant solution to a rather complicated problem.


Scampering back on point... Parachutes. Will the brightly colored festive patterns really be a sufficient consolation when one is hurtling toward the earth at terminal velocity? Or perhaps should a bit more time have been spent on making sure it actually worked?

Lifeboats. The name kind of implies a sense of urgency don't you think? Ship is sinking, which one do you want? The one that functions well and will float long enough to get you to shore? Or the pretty one?

Internal combustion Engines. Specifically air cooled ones (which I've worked with extensively). Air cooled internal combustion engines work/function quite well. Chromed air cooled internal combustion engines look really sharp (granted depending on who you ask)...but tend to overheat because the chrome hampers the engines ability to dissipate heat properly. Now overheated air cooled engines tend to seize (lockup permanently) and leave you stranded. You're about to cross 500 miles of desert, do you want the nice pretty chrome engine?

Here's another fun example...which occupied most of my time this very afternoon. Aesthetically (e.g. form) The large majestic oak tree in my backyard is a true thing of beauty...but then again I like trees. However... Functionally, given that it is right next to, and therefore hangs directly over my swimming pool it is also incredibly stupid. Which is why I spent the bulk of my afternoon dredging 8 bags of acorns out of said pool. smiley

Are we noticing a trend yet?

One more for the road.... Here's a device (conveyance actually) that was a large canvas bag coated/sealed with a "mildly explosive" compound, and filled with hydrogen. Granted the Hindenburg was a beautiful ship...

So, in closing, when your life actually depends on something working correctly the first time, which is "better", the one that was designed to work reliably? or the one that looks good? ...Because it is just so cool to be a sexy corpse.

I did however want to respond to this:
Theory vs practice ? Maybe.... depending on your definition of what a "theory" is, of course. For me it's more "A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena". I imagine you meant "A belief that can guide behavior" or "speculation" ?

If we're going to be fair both are correct...(mind you I like one better because it makes for shorter discussions)... depending on where in the (life cycle of a theory) time line one is at. Definition one is theory/axiom and based on direct observation and reproducible results. Definition two, is more popular theory/things that need to be more fully tested like (winding back through history a bit) the earth is flat & bumble bees can't fly. In the 1970's (aviation theory) definition one stated unequivocally that bumble bees could not fly...but the little bastards just would not cooperate and stay on the ground... smiley IIRC "they" did finally figure out which loophole the bees were using sometime in the 90's ... but it took a bit of two (who ya gonna believe your lying eyes or the facts right here on paper) to get to one.
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Armando
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« Reply #17 on: October 24, 2010, 06:56:27 PM »

thanks for taking the time to explain your thought with detailed concrete examples

[...] That being my assertion that form follows function.

I'm not trying to be a smart ass, here. But in fact, AFAICT, function too can follow form. I.e : Form can influence how you'll use something in the end, even if that was not the original intention.

I'm sure others can provide examples... I'm a bit short on time tonight.
Ok... Fire : Humans discovered fire and thought that they could use it for what we know. It's not the reverse : they were cold and decided to create fire.
Probably not the best example, but... I'm sure you get it.
It happens a lot in art and science : artists and scientists (including mathematicians...) find/discover seemingly "useless" stuff which functions/uses appear later.


Scampering back on point... Parachutes. Will the brightly colored festive patterns really be a sufficient consolation when one is hurtling toward the earth at terminal velocity? Or perhaps should a bit more time have been spent on making sure it actually worked? [...] Lifeboats. The name kind of implies a sense of urgency don't you think? Ship is sinking, which one do you want? The one that functions well and will float long enough to get you to shore? Or the pretty one?

Well, yes, obviously... the parachute / boat, etc. (in your examples) weren't normally created to express complex artistic experiences, cheer up spectators, etc., but to save someone's life / carry someone safely on the water, etc.
In your various examples, we might say that (maybe) to much energy was put in some other secondary function (to look nice and festive, sexy, etc.) and not on its primary one : save somebody's life. These are 2 different functions, not necessarily incompatible, but overworking on a secondary function is not... Bright... Especially if the main one hasn't been sufficiently taken care off.
In other words : The main "problem" you outline in all your example is that some function that should be secondary either handicaps the main function, or... Can't compensate for its lack of good implementation through good form.

So, of course, I agree with all that.

When a software tries to compensate poor function implementation by using aesthetic ideas, it's certainly a recipe for dissatisfaction or shallowness, especially if the main function isn't to be cute and sexy but to achieve something precise. If we're not building a work of art or designing the front page of a magazine, "Sexyness" (as a goal) should never be the main focus before other functions are well implemented...

However, as you see I do not confuse form with aesthetic. It never was the same thing, at all. Form is just how function "materialises", so to speak. More accurately : it's the other side of the same coin, like I said in one of my first posts. Aesthetic as a goal would certainly not be the most important aspect of a majority of software. Again : aesthetic is the most important goal when we're dealing with art, presentation... Or when we decide to make it the #1 priority.... that's it. (That's why your chromed engine can certainly be nice to have, even if makes the whole structure dangerous... Although I couldn't care less for chromed engines... Wink )

So what does that mean? Maybe that, for any  given software : 1- Function should be clear and in accordance with its form, 2-  form should be in total accordance with its function. As corollaries : 3- form should make the functions clear and completely understandable, transparent and easy to use to its users. Then, when that has been achieved : 4- form can be made more aesthetic, pleasing, so that #1, #2 and #3 are actually reinforced... And some sensory pleasure can be felt...

Note that, IMO, none of those are mutually exclusive. However, like anything else, one or the other can steal the focus and create an imbalance.


I did however want to respond to this:
Theory vs practice ? Maybe.... depending on your definition of what a "theory" is, of course. For me it's more "A well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena". I imagine you meant "A belief that can guide behavior" or "speculation" ?

If we're going to be fair both are correct...

Yes, you're right, they're both correct, that's why I didn't say you were wrong. I'm just used to the first one.

Have a nice day/evening !
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« Reply #18 on: October 25, 2010, 06:43:16 AM »

So what does that mean? Maybe that, for any  given software : 1- Function should be clear and in accordance with its form, 2-  form should be in total accordance with its function. As corollaries : 3- form should make the functions clear and completely understandable, transparent and easy to use to its users. Then, when that has been achieved : 4- form can be made more aesthetic, pleasing, so that #1, #2 and #3 are actually reinforced... And some sensory pleasure can be felt...

Okay, I had to read that 3 times...But I'll sign it. Wink
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Armando
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« Reply #19 on: October 25, 2010, 09:17:00 AM »

Hehehe... Funny.  smiley
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"I suppose it can be said that I'm an absent-minded driver. It's true that I've driven through a number of red lights on occasion, but on the other hand, I've stopped at a lot of green ones but never gotten credit for it."
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