Sunday, April 11, 2010

Don't Say Usable if You Don't Mean It

I'm pretty sure Helveticards, a deck of playing cards with a trendy sort of functional Swiss design, is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but one phrase in their description made me clench a bit:
Helveticards are the beautiful, usable alternative to the traditional deck of cards...
That, it must be said, is a bold assertion, as if it's a wonder anyone can get through a game of solitaire with the woefully unusable traditional pack.

Dudes, the usability of the playing card has, due to the economics involved, been refined for centuries and has been pretty well standardized since the 19th century or so.  Check the comparison with a card from a generic China Airlines pack:

HelveticardChina Airlines playing card

Okay, the Helveticard admittedly looks cooler, but more usable?

While the Helveticard has a tasteful small indication of number and suit surrounded by artful whitespace in the corner, the standard card packs it large and clear all the way into the corner -- suit below number so you can see exactly what you have with minimum fanning.  The Helveticard at least keeps the upper-left/lower-right symmetry, but if you happen to flip it upside-down, the card indicator is color-inverted for chrissakes.  In fact the Helveticard shows a disturbing lack of commitment to symmetry, with the big 5 and suit indicators off to the side with a definite opinion on "up".  I'm imagining a group of designers picking up their hands, fastidiously rotating their cards to be right-way-up.

Also, do we really need a textual "Five of Clubs"?  It's not currency, it's a playing card;  half the games played with it were probably invented by illiterate people.

Trendy styling, poor design.  Vignelli and Brunson would be displeased.


Jayson said...

This is one of those deals where you say 'Design...' and roll your eyes. I don't quite know if this will sound right, but this speaks of a sort of design school arrogance that for whatever professed love of graphic design and repeated viewings of the Helvetica movie actually doesn't understand graphic design at all. It understands reading a lot of design magazines. It understands that a particular typeface is now a thing. It doesn't understand process at all. If it did it would see that playing cards are perfect. The way they look is practically Darwinian.

sherkaner said...

Darwinian is exactly the way to describe it. In fact it could also be applied to this other project I saw today:

This guy claims he's made the SLR more usable for a variety of ways of holding it. Once again, I guarantee that is not true when the object in question is very usability-driven and has essentially the same functionality and use model for about a century. This shit has been solved, unless there's something that just wasn't possible before (which isn't the case here).

Anonymous said...

"usable" is the new trendy.

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