Design’s disappearing act: how to simplify complex, data-rich products

Michelle Lam — Co-Founder and CEO, True&Co.

The experience of using Instagram’s new steadycam time-lapse video app Hyperlapse is about the polar opposite of the complexity that’s going on under the surface of the app. And that’s the way it should be.

In the background, the app is channeling  your phone’s gyroscope data into an algorithm that maps one video frame to the next, which gives the illusion of a steady held camera. Add some embellishments and you get the frenetic — or sometimes poetic — feel of the sped-up video clips.

But the Hyperlapse UI itself is utter simplicity. The first screen only has a record button, and after recording, the only option is choosing the speed of your video. The last step, of course, is to share it.

Hyperlapse is the latest example of how companies are using design to simplify complex systems and experiences down to just the barest essence. In Hyperlapse’s case three single steps.

Moderated by: Om Malik — Founder, Gigaom Speaker: Kevin Systrom — Co-Founder and CEO, Instagram

Co-founder & CEO of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, in conversation with Om Malik at Roadmap 2013

Instagram has long been a big believer in simple design. Last year Instagram’s co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom told the audience at our Roadmap design conference that all of Instagram’s design decisions are highly data-driven, but they have conviction and a point of view.

But Instagram is far from the only one out there focusing on simplicity via data. Dropbox’s design chief Gentry Underwood — who led the design of the super simple email app Mailbox — told CNET is an interview recently:

Often I think really great design disappears. You don’t think about it. . . It’s that ‘of course’ kind of feeling that I think is in so many of the great products that we’ve come to know and love over time.

Underwood also spoke at Roadmap 2013. This idea of “invisible design” is what we think is at the heart of what it takes to design break out apps, websites, services and even devices in this data-rich, always-connected world. We’ll be highlighting this theme at this year’s Roadmap, which will take place on November 18th and 19th at San Francisco’s SF Jazz Center.

The SF Jazz Center, image courtesy of SF Jazz Center

The SF Jazz Center, image courtesy of SF Jazz Center

Some of our speakers at Roadmap 2014 include:

  • Yves Béhar, Founder and CEO, fuseproject
  • John Maeda, Design Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
  • Elle Luna, Artist and Designer
  • Matias Duarte, VP Design, Android, Google
  • Jessica Hische, Letterer and Type Designer
  • Fabio Sergio, VP Creative, frog
  • Erica Kochi, Co-Founder and Co-Lead, UNICEF Innovation Unit, UNICEF
  • Stephane Marceau, Co-Founder and CEO, OMsignal
  • Craig Mod, Writer and Designer
  • Peter Skillman, Head of Design, HERE

We’ll be announcing more speakers in the coming weeks. Come hang out with us at Roadmap and learn about how to build invisible design into your products.

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