Thursday, March 29, 2012

Creative discomfort

While reading this TUAW article on "how the iPad inspires new content creation," I stumbled on a related, more interesting thought.

(Isn't that always the way of things? The best meeting I've been in this week was boring and useless, and once I realized it was going nowhere and focused my mind instead on the other things on my to-do list, I was able to do some great work brainstorming and project-planning, all without leaving the meeting room. Sometimes the best ideas don't come from what others put in front of you, they're the ideas that are one or two steps to the side, just out of view until you allow your focus to shift.)

The author argues that the iPad inspires creativity because it's a direct interface, rather than one that's mediated through a keyboard and a mouse. There's no doubt some truth to that, but I would argue that the iPad's greatest inspirations come from the combination of two qualities: its simplicity and its novelty.

Simplicity is what everyone notices about the iPad: it does away with a lot of the interface conventions that we're all used to when working with computers. Conventions are comfortable to experts, but sometimes they make very little sense in absolute terms. The world is typing on QWERTY keyboards because we're all used to it and trained on that interface, not because it's better. The iPad's simplicity wipes away all of that and allows interactions that are not predefined by convention.

That's a great thing, but what's more significant is that the iPad forces the user out of the comfort zone. If you present me with a conventional computer, complete with keyboard and mouse, I think I already know how I can and will use it. My preconceptions of the device constrain my use of it. The iPad, though, is a little uncomfortable. It forces you to use it in ways that initially can seem awkward. In the process, new possibilities present themselves.

In retrospect, iPad keyboards and styluses are a terrible idea. They're extensions of ideas that we're already comfortable with. The power of devices like the iPad lies in the ways that they can make us uncomfortable, and in so doing expand the possible.