Tensions in interface design

Here are some interface design qualities that can be taken too far.

Informative → overwhelming

High information density means that people can see more information at in the same view. This helps with information comparison, for example. But if an interface is too dense, it can be overwhelming.

Visually exciting → incoherent

More colours, more visual effects, more shapes, more everything. These things make an interface exciting. But if there are too many, they also make an interface incoherent. The visual relationships between elements are hard to maintain and break down. It’s now a mess.

Adaptable → unsuited

You can design part of an interface so that it handles any situation you throw at it. But adaptability can lead to a design that is not well suited to any individual situation it is used for.

Familiar → boring

If you use interaction and visual design patterns that are familiar to people, the interface is more usable. But if you don’t do anything novel, it’s also boring.

Novel → unfamiliar

People are excited by novelty, but are wary of the unfamiliar. If something is too advanced you might find that people don’t want to engage with it.

Clean → undiscoverable

A clean interface is easier to explore, understand, and use. You can hide or remove elements to make a cleaner interface. But if you sweep too many elements under the rug, people can’t find what they want. Or they don’t know something exists in the first place. Or they can find something but it takes too long. This hurts usability.

Powerful → unusable

The more features you add to an interface, the more you can do with it. But if you add too many features, they compete with one another. The interface can be confusing, and bloated.

Expressive → dated

Expressive visual design choices make an interface more attractive. They help communicate concepts to people. But expressive choices are often of their time. The more expressive choices you make, the more your interface will be associated with visual trends. Over time, these trends look old-fashioned.