What Web Application Design Can Learn from the Harpsichord

A session at BayCHI February 2010

Baroque harpsichordists excelled at taking simple melodies and creating elaborate, beautiful pieces of music. But in their desire to push the boundaries of experimentation, these keyboard virtuosi eventually ornamented the music beyond the limits of good taste, making the composer's original melody unrecognizable. Listen to enough Baroque music, and you'll ultimately decide, "This is ridiculous. I never want to hear another harpsichord!"

Something similar happens in Web design. With new technology comes a natural desire to experiment, challenging fundamental design rules to push the limits of web applications. As designers explore just how far they can go, there inevitably comes a breaking point, where you think, "This is ridiculous. I never want to see another rounded corner!"

In both cases, the lesson learned is that just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Web application interaction design brings a wealth of creative freedom and makes it increasingly important to identify the functional rationale for UI choices rather than gut reactions like "this is the way users are accustomed to it" or "this just looks better." Elaine will discuss how to approach web application design when, instead of one dominant voice, there's a multitude of web product and design philosophies.

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Elaine Wherry

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