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Design cannot be frictionless

Designers have an important role in the streamlining of communication. A badly designed message does not reach its target group. The designer acts in the interest of the customer by making the design and production process more efficient, while at the same time causing better communication at lower cost and with shorter turnaround time. In short: more revenue. So much for the clichés.

It is true, everything can be speeded up. The development of photos went from three days at the photo booth to 30 seconds on a USB-stick. Sending an invoice through physical mail in two days went to two seconds as a PDF file. Making new friends doesn’t cost years; a simple ‘like’ is sufficient. And going out with them has been very efficiently chopped into moments of FaceTime. Where the selection of a movie used to depend entirely on the taste of the local theater, now the process is replaced by a five-second HBO-Netflix click.

Some things are not as efficient as they could be, though. After ordering online, we still have to wait for the UPS driver to pass by, often as late as the next day; but it’s expected that such delays will soon be solved as well. 3D printers just need to become a little smarter and we’ll be able to print most of these products at home. Downloading the latest product files through Amazon.

These are the joys of the modern era. We can’t go back. No one could. Or would want to anyway. Yet there are dangers more subtle than the limitations of unlimited growth of consumption and the infinite shortening of availability. It may benefit employment in parts of the world, but the question is whether we’ve got much happier now that the entire time for development and production of a new smartphone – the concept, sketching and functional design, production of molds, packaging, marketing, advertising, transportation to the store and becoming fashionable – has been reduced to under 10 weeks. Devices no longer become obsolete because they break. They wear out because the standard plugs become unavailable. Or updating apps assumes a lot more GBs.

The increase of effectiveness and speed has become a goal in itself. “Upgrade or Die.” Only those who stay ahead of the competition will survive. Mistakes are fatal. Hesitations are unprofessionally bad. An optimally efficient world has neither friction nor resistance.

But as is clear to anyone who ever blew an electrical fuse, without resistance there is a short circuit. In a world with infinite money, inflation has no boundaries. Unlimited resources make us fat and lazy. If artists are not hungry for their next creation, they will probably copy themselves for the rest of their lives. The real dangers are subtle and far-reaching. Itisaworldwithoutwordspaces. A place without twists and curls. In a straightened river (much more efficient for shipping), the melted spring water streams down all at once. No hesitant drop stays behind.

Without resistance, there is no middle management. The locations in a company where slight annoyance causes employees to search for better ideas. Where things are considered and rejected, even if it clearly is for the wrong reason. Without resistance, there are no designers: a problem thunders directly from the client request to the production department, without modification or innovative control. Without the right amount of resistance, darling ideas are no longer killed where they should be.

As Google sends the knowledge of a handful of global experts to all the laymen in the world, there is no intervention of people who otherwise would have had the topic sit on their desk for a while. To give it a second, a third, an after-thought. Separating the pearls from daily diarrhea. Wondering how great ideas might be implemented even better. In a world where everyone can make selfies, people no longer need to grasp a diaphragm. With a certain amount of healthy bureaucratic resistance, applicants for a building plan will think just a little longer before submitting it. Not for nothing do insurance policies have deductible clauses.

Students who complain that the assignment is very complex, show themselves to be on the right track. Difficult is fun. Effort is value. The athlete with muscle pain at least tried to achieve something. Transpiration equals growth. Easy is deadly.

Without resistance, the word “rejoice” has no meaning anymore. Eagerly looking forward to the next morning does not exist when Santa Claus comes every day.

Being online everywhere, unlimited by bandwidth or speed, it is tempting to book faces every second of the day. We let ourselves become information junkies in a heaven of data.

And at the same time, infinite resistance leads to the stopping of flow. Turning off the switch leaves us in the dark. Life is a subtle balance – almost a design process in itself.

The solution seems dead simple. Let that email sit on your desktop for another day or so, and don’t answer every call right away. If it is a great idea now, it is probably still one tomorrow. If someone is your friend only because you respond within the minute, you can wonder what kind of friendship that must be. If a client cannot wait for you to finish what you are doing right now, they’re probably the wrong kind of client.

Procrastinate, cherish, and enjoy.

(Thanks to Peter Kriens, www.aqute.biz)