is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Two’s a Crowd
For whatever reason, though, I threw caution to the wind and double-clicked on the vCard. To my surprise, something unexpected happened: Address Book launched, alright, but a brand new screen appeared, one I hadn’t ever seen before. It identified the new vCard as a duplicate, highlighted the updated data, and offered to let me choose between retaining the original card, retaining the new card, retaining both, or simply updating the old card with the new information. I chose the last of those options, which also happened to be the default.
This is a smartly done and very handy bit of functionality, but the best part about it is that it’s so visually novel. The options arranged at the bottom of the screen, represented as a series of green and orange icons, are the most colorful parts of Address Book by far. Together with the unexpectedly playful, forty-five degree red snipe at the top right that reads “Update,” the whole screen looks an order of magnitude funner than rest of the application.
Fun Time Scheduled for Later
You can make an argument that the whole of Address Book could stand this level of novelty, and you might be right. But setting that debatable incompleteness aside, what I like about this new-to-me screen is the idea that an application can reveal itself to you over time, that an experience can be designed not just over the course of several sessions, but over much longer time periods.
In my case, it took me literally several years of working with Address Book to encounter this feature. In spite of how much care that the software’s designers took to make the feature forehead-slappingly logical and aesthetically entertaining, they were in no rush to show it to me; they let me discover it in my own time. They abstained from showing me daily tips, forcing me through extensive tutorials, or devising interaction paths that would unnaturally cause me to encounter it.
Instead, they just designed it and figured that when I needed to use it, it would be there — and that I’d be pleased to see it when I did. That kind of quiet self-confidence is rare in interaction design, I think; it represents a kind of maturity that we’re still working up to: the ability to hold back, to trust the users to embrace applications as a whole and to encounter details over time, to act more like artists than marketers. I know, I know. We’re just talking about a duplication dialog box here, essentially, and this is all a bit of an Apple fanatic’s triumphalism. But sometimes big ideas start with small notions.+