“Practicing” Elegant Design

The Heathkit TC-3 Tube Checker – a Masterpiece in UI (User Interface) design

I am coming off a really fantastic work week – where I finished QA-ing the Data Discoverer product that I designed at LendUp in Oakland. It is a system that will let LendUp adhere and comply with a broad and sweeping Data Privacy regulation called the CCPA (California Consumer Protection Act), and its touted as the US version of the GDPR – which is the EU version of this. You can thank the Social Media and Fintech companies who have had serious data breaches (like Facebook and Equifax particularly) for this new era of regulation.

One of the best “UI” designs in Ham Radio – ever – the Collins Gold Dust Twins

The UI on my Data Discoverer is a lot like the two examples above – there is a lot going on, but every control and display is perfectly located and there is only as much as you need – and not one thing more.

Perhaps the most “elegant design” UI of them all? The National SW-3

The National SW-3 is only missing one thing that I would have liked – a meter. But given that it was designed right on the heels of the Great Depression, it is my #1 example of elegant design – it offers everything you need and not a thing more – and it is even to this day a stellar performer. Call it “Bauhausian” – with function over form, but it was sold as an inexpensive receiver in tough economic times – and its a reminder how many designs fail because they are either too clumsy and cluttered, or they just plain have too many features – with many that few actually use. The human brain can handle three things nicely, 5 things in a pinch – so look at the SW-3 – five controls, and not one thing that is unnecessary.

The best thing about this week is that I pretty much was tested on my knowledge of Java, React and JavaScript – and even some Functional Programming. I fixed a few minor bugs and used the Data Discoverer to start doing the next phase of our CCPA project – which is to use the app I designed. It is as enjoyable to use as any of the above examples of elegant design, and it far exceeds my first example of UI design:

https://engineering.creditkarma.com/credit-karma-data-explorer/

I was very proud of that a year ago – but I used that first attempt to design something much better this summer – something that only has exactly what is needed – and something were every control is perfectly placed and used by all. I dropped the silly “dashboard” and design with the split pane – with the form on the left and the list of junk on the right. The search this year is a million times better, and I dropped useless ideas like the Data Modeler and something (a young designer wanted to add) – a sliding menu that slides in from the right or left. All of this stuff was crap – noise – and basically fad “eye candy” and was useless as far as function goes. We wasted precious screen space – a real sin with a React Single Page App.

I also centered this years design on CCPA and Compliance / Data Protection and Security – and what I designed last year is sorely lacking when it comes to Business Rules and Compliance features. I learned what is needed in this area when I spent 3 months intensely learning Collibra – which has a decent (but not elegant) UI design. Its better than most though, I will say that. What I have designed this summer is like the SW-3 – or perhaps the Heathkit TC-3, and Collibra is like a modern rig with controls buried down in several levels of menus. But its still an awesome product for something that complex, and I learned everything I needed to know about how to design for an app that will first support CCPA – but my design is better as far as being “less is more”.

A year ago I thought I had designed a masterpiece. It wasn’t – but I don’t want to slam it either – I just have way out performed that effort. I don’t think you are ever done with elegant design – its more of a practice or art than science. This year I also did all of the design and more than half of the coding – and this week was the first week where I am the only developer supporting it – so fixing a few minor bugs was a great test – sort of my “final exam”. Art meets Science I suppose.

The joke is – “If its Summer, I must be designing and building a React app”, so who knows what next Summer will bring (?)

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