As a product of engineering, interface design necessarily works in the interest of clarity and coherence, but once its practitioners begin to think of themselves as artists, those values grow more and more restrictive. The first generation of interface designers to break dramatically with the first principle of navigability will no doubt be pilloried by the digital establishment, but they will also open up a whole new possibility space for the designers that come after them. The DOS snobs that turned up their noses at the Mac's desktop metaphor did so because Apple's look-and-feel seemed too easy, more like a novice's training wheels than a legitimate software advance. The interface subcultures of the future will offend the traditionalists by being too difficult. "User-hostile" may sound like an odd goal for interface design, but the truth is the field could use a little tough love. No medium has managed to reach the status of genuine artistry without offending some of its audience some of the time. Even under the user-friendly dictates of interface design, you can't make art without a good measure of alienation.

Steven Johnson,
Interface Culture (HarperEdge, 1997)


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