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From:
Jack Carroll <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Jack Carroll <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Fri, 30 Jan 2015 13:36:35 +0000
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CHI Colleagues

Friends have asked me why I have been spreading distopian rumors about user experience design, cf. http://www.popsci.com/instructions-not-included?4K1yQB0eGOTbfCrI.03

It is a thrill to be written up in Popular Science, which I read as a boy, and frankly, it is beyond thrilling to have my work placed on the timeline of Vitruvius and Moxon. Whew! I do plan to change my will so that my headstone  will now read “The man who killed the manual” (much edgier that my earlier idea, “a guy who wrote tiny manuals”).

Not to be ungrateful, and at the risk of quibbling, I do not agree at all with the author’s conclusion that minimalist information designs cause mediocrity/satisficing in human skill development, or worse, helped evoke a society divided into a technological elite and those controlled by that elite. I acknowledge it makes for a strong ending in the article! 

In my view, mediocrity/satisficing is partly a confusion of the mean with the range in skill distributions, and mainly a deep characteristic of human thought (i.e., antecedent to information designs). And my view is that minimalist designs engage and empower more people in technology, and thereby diminish the implicit control of elites. I do (of course) agree with the more general point that any time we effectively change technology, we risk letting genies out of bottles.

To be clear and honest, I am grateful to Mark Svenvold (the author) and to Popular Science (which does pretty careful fact checking on individual facts). That they come to different conclusions than I did, and recognize different meanings, just comes with the territory of thinking at all. I am absolutely delighted that work I participated in 35 years ago is still discussed by anyone.

P.S. Coincidentally, I have just published my own umpteenth reflection on minimalist information designs in the International Journal of Designs for Learning special issue on historic design cases (http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/ijdl/article/view/12887). Again, I am delighted and somewhat amazed people still want to read about this stuff, but the IJDL version of the minimalism story is one that I should be held responsible for. 
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