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Aesthetic Seductions

Seduction is not an adjective most people would associate with a computer interface or media, but whether they realize it or not, most people have been either seduced or have been the target of seduction by almost all forms of media. Successful seduction, however, is a careful art that is not easily mastered nor invoked. For example, I believe that it's important to view the interface as an opportunity to seduce people—not for nefarious reasons, but to enhance their experiences and lives. Seduction, in fact, has always been a part of design, whether graphic, industrial, environmental, or electronic. For many, seduction immediately connotes sex appeal or sexual enticement. In fact, the sexual aspect is not the essence of its meaning as much as enticement and appeal.

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool. Shun him.

He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a child. Teach him.

He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep. Wake him.

He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man. Follow him.

–Arab proverb

While numerous fields are involved with the storage and transmission of information, virtually none is devoted to translating it into understandable forms for the general public. As the only means we have of comprehending information are through words, numbers, and pictures, the two professions that primarily determine how we receive it are writing and graphic design. Yet the orientation and training in both fields are more preoccupied with stylistic and aesthetic concerns.

If God wants people to suffer, he sends them too much understanding.

– Yiddish proverb

Despite the critical role that graphic designers play in the delivery of information, most of the curriculum in design schools is concerned with teaching students how to make things look good. This is later reinforced by the profession, which bestows awards primarily for appearance rather than for understandability or accuracy. There aren't any Oscars, Emmys, or Tonys for making graphics comprehensible. The departments of graphic design that offer valid courses on information architecture and information design are practically nonexistent. Recently, some lip service has been given, but the efforts and results have been shallow. The various books that have been produced on graphic diagrams have been devoted almost exclusively to the aesthetic of the beautiful diagram, the beautiful map and chart—not their performance, nor their system, and not the analysis and criticism of their performance. If you remember this, perhaps you won't feel so inadequate the next time a chart or graph doesn't make sense to you even though you have an urge to hang it on your wall.

I do believe there is the need for new words. I do believe there is the need for new actions relative to understanding. I do believe leadership for these words and actions comes from several communities:

  • Thoughtful graphic designers

  • Creative information architects

  • Writers and journalists

The individuals who cross the boundaries of these three groups have the potential to become good information architects.

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