Survival of the least annoying

Herbert Spencer coined the term “survival of the fittest” in 1864, after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Darwin himself is often mistakenly cited as the author of this iconic phrase, which I suppose is an example of one sort of Darwinian principle at work.

As I was walking down the street today, engaged in the awkward and clumsy task of using my cell phone to find an open bank in my neighborhood, I was acutely aware of the sort of weird dance I was doing. On the one hand I needed to look down at the virtual world on my phone, so I could see what branches were open, and how to get to them. On the other hand, I needed to make sure, back here in the physical world, that I wasn’t about to walk into another pedestrian.

Pretty soon this sort of interaction will be replaced by a different one: Questions like “How do I walk to the nearest open bank branch?” will become less awkward, because you will just see the optimal direction to walk. It will be floating in front of you, visually integrated with your physical reality.

You won’t be in danger of walking into another pedestrian because other pedestrians will stay safely in your line of sight, where they belong. But this will lead to some interesting design questions, which will be addressed by apps on your phone.

Those apps will start to compete for the space in front of our eyes. Each app will have its own visual solution to the question of how to show us where to walk, without being too intrusive or confusing, or requiring too much of our attention or cognition.

I suspect that eventually one visual paradigm will win, pushing out the others, just as the clean uncluttered look of the Google search page once pushed out the many competing search interface paradigms in the first decade of the Web.

And I also suspect that the winning design will simply be the one that satisfies the Darwinian condition of being the least “in your face”. It will be a case of survival of the least annoying.

2 thoughts on “Survival of the least annoying”

  1. Sounds very scary. I don’s know about you, but am not letting those people go anywhere near my spinal cord.

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