I’m sure “Great design is invisible” looks fantastic on a crisp Helvetica poster but, like all slogans, it whitewashes complexity.
The phrase is a favourite of the UX industry, which generally advocates the suppression of a designer’s personal style in favour of universal functionality. The idea of the designer as a benevolent force, steering the user toward her own goal, is appealing – but it’s a mindset that belongs more to the usability era than the voguish age of experience.
Sure, sometimes great design is invisible. But sometimes great design is violent, original, surprising. To deny design’s ability to ask difficult questions, to shock, to flatter, to belittle, is to squander its potential. We mustn’t be afraid to let design off the lead once in a while. In a marketplace of bewildering clutter, products that take a stand – that have a damned opinion – become the most visible.