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JRG Design Works

Thoughts on Design

Make the Seen Unseen, and By Doing So, Beautiful<

“Do not think of it as a weapon.
Make it part of your hand - part of your arm. Make it part of you.”
— Lieutenant Worf, Star Trek, The Next Generation

In the hit TV series Star Trek, Lieutenant Warf instructs his son not to think of the Bat’leth, the ancient Klingon sword, as a weapon. He tells him to think of it as an extension of his own body, even an extension of himself. The concept is so common in the lore of the sword that it has become a cliché. It has made its way into popular culture from the Klingon Bat’leth to the Jedi light saber to Harry Potter’s wand. Nonetheless, there is an essential element of truth to the old adage that underlies the cliché. To most effectively use a tool or instrument, one ceases to perceive the object itself and focuses entirely on the goal or task at hand.

Photo of a Stainer violin
The violin is often considered one of the most beautiful instruments ever made. But, does the violinist see the violin while playing it?

I intentionally invoked the example of a weapon because I believe that a great way to test the validity of a concept is to look at it in a real life or death context. When wielding a sword, you cannot afford to focus on anything except defense and offence. The sword becomes your linked partner in the fight and both you and it must act as one or perish. Is it any wonder that Japanese tradition dictates that a katana should be named? The concept is not limited to weapons. The same can be said of musical instruments. Accomplished musicians don’t think about their instruments during a performance. They think, or more accurately, feel the music and the instrument becomes their partner in bringing forth the performance.

The minute the object insinuates its presence as a distraction, as an unbalanced sword would be to a warrior or a mistuned violin would be to a violinist, the user’s goal is compromised because “flow” is broken.

Clarity in Design Comes First


Good Design is Revelation

Good design is not a personal vision that the designer brings forth to solve a design challenge. Rather, it is a solution that is arrived at after achieving a careful understanding of the users’ mental models through research on their domain of work, their tasks, and their goals. Good design is revealed, not prescribed.


Beautiful Invisibility

My goal with interaction design is to create an interface that, practically speaking, is invisible to users. An interface must be visually perceptible, even beautiful. But it should never get in the user’s way. No one should ever have to think about the interface itself. The design should be visually visible, but cognitively invisible.


Patterns Are My Lifework

People are creatures of habit and patterns have been inherent to human experience for many centuries. The presentation and interaction that users expect from an interface can be documented in the form of design patterns, which can then be used as design standards for components across multiple applications. Understanding patterns are at the core of my work in User Experience. I have authored many design patterns, including the vast majority of those required for an international design pattern library.