Good design is hard on all of us.

An interior view of the Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia, a splendid mashup of bottom-up and top-down design. Photo courtesy of Licensed CC-BY-SA.

Tim Lee is, for my money, one of the most reasonable and thoughtful tech policy essayists we have. His latest, “Open User Interfaces Suck” got my attention, because he hits me right where I live. In his usual, respectful, level-headed way, he claims that open systems (like the open source development process I love so dearly) is ill-suited to a good user experience.

Tim starts, as you might expect, by holding up Apple as a paragon of interface design, since they make beautiful machines and beautiful, approachable software. He then turns his gaze to more open platforms, like Android, with withering disappointment. He concludes that because open systems require consensus-building and “big tent” approaches which are optimized for “scalability and flexibility”, they’re poorly equipped for good UI design. On the other hand, Tim says that good design depends on “simplicity and consistency,” which comes from the vision of one person (let’s call him “Steve“) and the slavish execution of that vision throughout the product.