Invisible cities

We design objects so people can use them as easily as possible. In The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman describes design as storing information in objects which explains how to them, thereby sparing people the effort of reading manuals. This removes part of the barriers which slow our understanding of objects so we can instead focus on the problem itself. This also makes emergency situations much less dire.

However, one interesting side effect of working to make objects simple to use is that, much like security, good design becomes invisible to people while bad design screams its mistakes. This has led to an overbearing majority of complaints and the idea that design and aesthetics (in the modern sense of the term) are one and the same. Only those looking for the design of objects as a whole will learn about the painstaking thought which goes into good design, and notice anything except mistakes.

If we consider design to be the reasoning by which we choose between several options then any object which was ever made with though was designed. Everything which surrounds us was made by people, designed by and reasoned about by others. This means that apart from those parts which are badly designed, we live in cities made largely invisible. Our inability to notice anything in design apart from mistakes might explain part of our dislike for cities

Think of elevator and helpline music. Someone has to compose and record that music, someone else has to then choose it. Are there CDs to be bought or platforms for streaming muzak? Do malls and car parks have DJs? The fonts on signs, the distance between bollards, types of trees, paving stone shapes, door handles…

We are surrounded everyday by the knowledge others decided to build into our environment through shape, colour, sound and texture.