Is “Good” Design Worse for Everyone?

 (A personal background note:  I was raised by an engineer and a linguist. Two persistent frustrations I face in life are poor design decisions and misuse of language.)

As we design technologies to be more “user-friendly,” we demand less of the user. This means the user needs less knowledge to use the product. Those who used computers in the 1970s-1990s needed some measure of understanding of the computer to use it. In today’s point-and-click interfaces, everyone can use the computer without understanding a thing about how it works. This is the kind of democratization that leads to ignorance.

There are two ways to open something up democratically: 1) Elevate the populace to meet the entry standards, 2) Lower the entry standards so that more people can meet them in the people’s current state. The enthusiastic talk about how digital technologies democratize is not necessarily encouraging because it is often another way of saying that people need to know less in order to participate. All that means is the average participant is more ignorant.  The great hope is that digital technologies can be used to challenge and educate the populace rather than to coddle and welcome their ignorance.


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