December 18, 2008

Richard Serra and Designing the User Experience

Image by looking4poetry, Flickr

Minimalist artist Richard Serra is known for his sheet-metal sculptures. Whether you view them as majestic or even brutalist, all can agree that Serra hones in his audience. And that audience is not homogenous: “The first audience is the people involved in the process. That would be the steel engineers, the steel mill workers, and the riggers. I don't make the sculpture particularly for them, but the riggers are the first audience. The people who put the work together know more about it than anyone else. The second audience is the interpretive audience, whoever happens upon the work… .” In the same interview with Klaus Ottmann of the Journal of Contemporary Art, Serra is sensitive to the physicality of his work, “I’m interested in the clarity of building, in gravity, in the tendency to overturn, in the exactitude of measure, the addition and subtraction of weight, the rotation of weight. I’m interested in mass.” 37signals’s Jason Fried recommended designing webapps as it were physical:

“Next time you design some software, visualize how it would look if it was a real object. Would you be able to figure out what it does by just looking at it? Or picking it up? Or turning it on? Or would you not know where to grab it, or how to pick it up, or how to turn it on? Would you know which way was up? Or which side was the front or back? Would it be too heavy to move even thought it was supposed to be portable? Would it be square when it says it’s round?”

Serra’s transformation of raw material, with its qualities and their discovery by people in mind, can be applied to the sculpture of software and beyond.