Invisible Design Within Education?

This morning I had a post come across my info stream by designer Frank Chimero titled, “The Cloud is Heavy and Design isn’t Invisble.” Quite a nice post in and of itself. It is a responsive post to another post by Timo Arnall‘s “No to NoUI” post.

The idea of design as becoming “invisible,” or that we experience the items in our lives in an invisible fashion or such that we don’t notice the design is what these posts are about. Thesis: Invisible design is not something to which we should strive as designers. Arnall outlines his arguments against this trend, in particular as touchscreens (and our infatuation with them) become more ubiquitous and therefore more problematic. Touchscreens as a cultural phenomena is striking to me as well.

I’ll leave it up to you to read the posts (and I encourage you to do so), but there are a couple of quotes from Frank that I’d like to share and explain a perspective that I am considering this morning. The first quote is where he states, “A metaphor can clarify or obscure. The most dangerous ones do both.” I like this. As a technologist and educator it truly speaks to the dynamic that is taking place around our language and thought process when it comes to technologies and education. Chimero goes on to discuss the idea around the term “The Cloud,” and how that is a complicated metaphor that both implies a simple solution without clearing away the “fog” to see the complexities behind it: servers, power, costs. In essence “The Cloud” is a misrepresentation to the reality. There are many times where I find myself having to explain this to people who have a desire to use “The Cloud,” insinuating a low-cost solution and/or a solution to a problem when perhaps a different solution would fit the situation better. 

The other quote from Frank that I especially like is,”Design doesn’t need to be showy to prove its value, but it shouldn’t be invisible, either. Designers mistake invisibility for elegance and simplicity for clarity at their peril. The best design speaks not only so it can be understood, but also in a way it can be admired by those that use it. What if you were inspired by the things that you used, simply because they were impressive in a way that was evident to you? And why is it bad to try to build things like that? I don’t think it is.”

This speaks to me from the perspective of an educator and how we “design” instruction. In many ways as I reflect on how courses are designed, how teaching and learning are created for the recipients, it seems as if we are trying to break out of an older paradigm (or some of us are and some disciplines are, perhaps). It’s hard to generalize on this, as well, as context really matters when it comes to instructional design and educational design. Still that does not mean that we should also have invisible design in instruction. Whether the instructor or the learner, to know and understand the design of the process can, I think, only bring more clarity and confidence to those involved, both teacher and learner. Feel free to comment below, if you wish. If not, I hope that the posts are thought provoking.