With any profession, it is important to review the concepts of creativity as it applies to the profession. With interface design, one must carefully apply creativity in a strategic way. “Thinking outside the box” should be something that is largely left out of the main process of design. Why, do you ask? I’ll give you three main reasons.
Interface Design has a Specific Goal
“Creativity” Can Come in the Way of Usability
People Don’t Want to Learn
Interface designers, and all true designers for that matter, understand this simple principle: the objective is the most important part of your design planning. In other words, as you design, everything you do should keep the purpose of the designed interface in mind. If it is not helping the purpose of the interface to be fulfilled, why include it? While art is very often used in interface design, and while many consider the practice of interface design to be an art on its own, it is beyond art. Art can be expressive without being functional; design must be functional. Make every aspect of the interface a product of the purpose instead of a product of expression. This doesn’t mean to not be creative when designing your interface. But in the realm of creativity, you must use creativity in advantage to the purpose of the design. So, if you didn’t get it by now… don’t substitute artistic expression for purposeful design.
This goes very well along with the first reason. Because of the popularity of modern and abstract elements of art, it is very easy to allow creative expression to interfere with the functionality and ease of use of the design. Simply “thinking outside the box” for the sake of it can quickly create problems. This is often because your first instinct when designing is probably the most functional. This is not to say that you can’t find new ways of achieving old goals; however, always keep in mind the principles of good design. Clarity is far more important than your “cool factor.” It is much better to have a working ugly interface than a beautiful broken interface.
As harsh as it sounds, the average user doesn’t want to have to spend time learning how to use your interface. They would much rather see it and know exactly what to do with it without exploring it. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. People live by this principle daily; take the easiest route, avoid anything that will cause your route to be longer. The only exception to this rule is when there is some other kind of trade-off. You learn in basic economics that people act rationally, and that it is a rational decision to weigh cost versus return. In the case of an interface, the use of the interface is costing time and returns whatever the function of the interface is. The only way to add something that is beyond simple functionality and expect people to continue using the interface is if it introduces a new or better return. For instance, if a person uses an interface and receives both the functionality of the interface and entertainment, they may be willing to stay longer than the straight line.
A note about “rules”
There are very few rules that exist within any creatively driven field. It is very possible that you may build an abstract or modern interface that is imbued with artistic expression that functions very well, or even better than an otherwise simple interface. It is most likely, however, that the most effective interfaces are those that are similar to what a user is used to interacting with. This is why it should be common practice to resort to what has worked before. This definitely is not an article suggesting that you remove the creative process from interface design, rather I am trying to make the point that creativity is NOT the most important part of an interface – functionality is.
We as creative professionals know that creativity is extremely important, as is originality. Be careful, however, to keep your objective in mind at all times when designing. This will allow for direction to your creativity, and push your creative juices to work in favor of the functionality rather than independent of them.