Tags: seamless

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Seamfulness

I was listening to some items in my Huffduffer feed when I noticed a little bit of synchronicity.

First of all, I was listening to Tom talking about Thington, and he mentioned seamful design—the idea that “seamlessness” is not necessarily a desirable quality. I think that’s certainly true in the world of connected devices.

Then I listened to Jeff interviewing Matt about hardware startups. They didn’t mention seamful design specifically (it was more all cricket and cables), but again, I think it’s a topic that’s lurking behind any discussion of the internet of things.

I’ve written about seams before. I really feel there’s value—and empowerment—in exposing the points of connection in a system. When designers attempt to airbrush those seams away, I worry that they are moving from “Don’t make me think” to “Don’t allow me to think”.

In many ways, aiming for seamlessness in design feels like the easy way out. It’s a surface-level approach that literally glosses over any deeper problems. I think it might be driven my an underlying assumption that seams are, by definition, ugly. Certainly there are plenty of daily experiences where the seams are noticeable and frustrating. But I don’t think it needs to be this way. The real design challenge is to make those seams beautiful.

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There are certain attributes of design—or the design process—that are spoken as if they are unquestionably positive. The adjective “innovative” is one of them. But not all innovation is positive. It is possible to create innovative ways to do harm.

Likewise, the word “seamless” is used as though it were by definition a good thing. But hiding the seams in a system is a way of denying a user’s power and autonomy. The problem is that when something goes wrong—as Murphy’s Law dictates it must—the only recourse left is to turn it off and on again.