So this is a bit of an extension of the idea of “appropriateness+” (I’m bad at term-making) taken from Cupchik and applied to Interaction Design critiques of Adobe products:

Consider the pen tool, bane of new designers and indispensable tool of the professional.

Pen Tool

A staple of Illustrator (and a valuable footnote to Photoshop) the pen tool allows for the creation of curves. To see why there is such a steep learning curve, let’s look at the instructions for the paint brush compared to the pen tool.

Paint brush – move the mouse to change position, click to make mark

And then the pen tool has this:

Pen Tool Cheat Sheet
Pen Tool Key


Now, to be fair the brush tool is a little more complicated than what I’ve presented, but it’s mostly through non-diegetic menus that are equally applicable to the pen tool. So why does one tool require a cheat sheet while the other is dead simple, and why would a tool that is so vexing to one group be so important to another? The answer lies, partially, in the notion of appropriateness and maybe a little into the difference between art and commerce. The pen tool creates a line by defining a bezier curve – a set of points that have location and pitch and connect to form a solid line. From the perspective of an “artist,” this would be very inappropriate, given Collingwood’s (I can’t believe I’m siting this in a positive light) idea that the “artist” does not plan, but just does as an act of discovery. The pen tool is prohibitive to exploration due to the density of the actions required just to make it work, and it’s use requires planning to help handle the extra cognitive load. Why would anyone use such a thing? One reason (there are others) would be the specificity required for professional work – while the brush is great at flying by the seat of it’s pants, it doesn’t really afford any kind of mathematical precision.

So, two tools that are appropriate to different audiences (fulfilling the last two qualities that Cupchik presents as defining beauty for their respective groups), but which one fulfills the first quality? My argument would be that neither does. One of the reasons that I have a love/hate relationship with Adobe products is that they make interfaces that are appropriate in one aspect, but don’t really represent the pinnacle of facilitating creative intent. This leads me to think that the relative aspects of appropriateness are the aspects that these interfaces get right, but the actual experience of use (the extra bit that makes something beautiful) is lacking. Now, I don’t know the answer as to how to make these tools more useful, off hand, but I do see this as a justification for focusing on user experience.

Advertisements