Design & Quantum Superposition

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Last year, Hungarian designer Csongor Bartus published a thought-provoking article I’ve only recently come across. Quantum mechanics and design are two words you don’t often see juxtaposed and probably rightfully so. No, I’ve not gone crazy and I’m not going to go down some weird esoteric “Quantum Design” rabbit hole here.

However, Csongor borrows the term superposition from quantum mechanics as a metaphor for an interesting new angle on design for the web:

To cut in, let’s equip all content with all states and let it rest in superposition, where it shows nothing, waiting for an Observer (visitor) and its Observing skillset (device) to reveal itself.

This metaphor opens up a different perspective on what design for the web could be and what could be accomplished by approaching design in this way:

Instead of mandating a definite layout, UX and look-and-feel that’s the same for everyone, everywhere and every time regardless of context or device they’re viewing the content with, this outlook rather views design as a process that ‘merely’ defines the constraints information (such as content on a website) lives within. From this perspective it’s the designer’s job to outline metadata, semantics and information hierarchy. It’s the device’s job to make visual sense of these relations in the given context (user-location-time / me-here-now origo).

In other words, just as an entity exists as both particle and wave at any given time unless measured, content also exists at a superposition that simultaneous comprises all its possible visual representations. It’s only by observing the content with a specific device that this metaphorical wave function collapses and a design is visually realised.

In a way designing in this sense means providing second-order affordances that enable the particular design to be put to use. This of course is very much in vein of concepts like responsive design, Atomic Design and living style guides, all of which have existed for some time now. It’s also related to some of the ideas promoted by the Semantic Web. So, while not something entirely new this notion at least provides an intriguing new perspective on design and information design in particular.

As a final thought, design from this point of view is about a co-creation relationship between for example a website’s designer, a device’s designer and the user interacting with the content at a specific instant.

About the author: Bjoern
Independent IT consultant, entrepreneur
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