Reading Response #2

I am responding to Principal 2.7 from Artful Design, chapter 2, which states:

Principal 2.7: Design to Lower Inhibition

While this is being talked about in the chapter titled “Designing Expressive Toys,” it made me think more about tools and instruments and how this would play out in those contexts. I’m specifically thinking about what is being chosen to be low friction and easy to do. In the chapter this focus is mostly on accessibility, for example, using voice modification to lower inhibitions of people who might otherwise be afraid to sing with the I am T-Pain app. With things that are labeled as toys this makes sense, as toys inherently tend to favor accessibility and a low skill floor - if there’s even any skill involved.

But, accessibility and enabling amateurs is a choice that is being made. Going back to Principal 1.7:

Principal 1.7: Design is an Articulation of Preference

And I think it’s interesting in a tool or instrument or system or anything else, what is being valued above others in its ease of use. Going by the standards used for Smule's Ocarina or I am T-Pain apps, a violin is a pretty poor instrument: it’s very difficult to make one sound good when you’re first starting out, and generally has a large skill floor. Instead the violin enables the player a great amount of precision and expressive flexibility.

Programming languages are another tool where the designer’s values for the language are expressed in what is easy to do. Python is fairly well known for putting a large emphasis on making code pythonic, where the emphasis is on readability and using the language idiomatically to solve problems. So, when your problem fits well into the conventions that Python has designed for things go great, but if you find yourself in a situation where the idiomatic solutions are inadequate, things can get weird. This goes back to the articulation of preference (and my response from last week about Pareto optimality), where it seems like in most situations, designing what you value to be easy comes at the cost of making other things harder. Another way of thinking about it is that easy to do things are highly valued, and difficult to do things are either not valued or negatively valued (i.e. you want to discourage that behavior).