Ok, I know my titles have gotten a bit ridiculous of late (and sometimes ridiculously long) but bear with me here…
On a long flight over the Atlantic, I cued up Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. For the uninitiated among us, Dark Side is one of the great classic rock albums of all time. It’s also one of the most famous concept albums ever created. A concept album is (and this is my anecdotal definition) an album where an overarching theme, and on occasion sounds, melodies and patterns, weave their way through the entire record. The notion of a “set of songs” gives way to an overall experience.
What’s amazing about Dark Side is that it attempted to represent something bigger than your typical album. If you stop and think about the notion of a single “song,” you’ll quickly realize that it’s a product of capitalism. Songs used to be sold as singles for a lot less than entire album. They also fit tidily within a radio station’s play list. As a result, artists were asked to, and eventually became accustomed to, churning out 3-5 minute songs for mass consumption.
Dark Side flies in the face of such conventions. Yes, there are “tracks” that are each individually titled, but anyone that’s listened to it will tell you they’re relatively useless. The tracks bleed into one another seamlessly without interruptions of silence. In addition, some tracks are less than two minutes long while others exceed seven minutes.
In essence, Pink Floyd created a singular, cohesive, seamless experience. They were aware of the artificial delineations that exist around popular music, and simply set them aside. Instead, they created a work that represents an uncompromised expression.
As we think about engineering and more importantly designing software or hardware, we can’t help but be aware of and heed the risks and challenges of technology constraints. When we design, we can’t help but compromise because certain realities exist. But if you really want to build something great that represents singular, cohesive, seamless experience, we must check ourselves and challenge convention.
You could boil down the above ramble into a single example: you can’t see the screws on an iPod. The hard realities that the engineers had to contend with in designing it are hidden away. The more we, as designers, are able to create the illusion of overcoming or better yet defying constraints, the more impressive and often-times magical our product will seem. And “seem” is good enough. For your users, it is reality.