Natural tensions in interaction and visual design

You can have too much of a good thing. Here are some good qualities that are a problem if they’re taken too far.

Informative, but not 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, but not 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.

Flexible, but not boring

You can design an interface so that it will support whatever content is thrown at it. But flexibility often needs simple style choices which can lead to boring visual design.

Familiar, but not 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, but not 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, but not 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, but not 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, but not 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.