Flexibility-Usability and the LCARS

Every Star Trek fan has that fantasy where they walk onto the bridge, their captain of choice greets them, and then they take their place behind one of the many shining consoles before them. The LCARS, Library Computer Access/Retrieval System, which made its grand appearance in the Next Generation series, has dazzled the eyes and imaginations of Trekkies every since. While the LCARS features a visually appealing look, it’s the fusion of flexibility and usability that gets it a mention in our series.

The flexibility-usability tradeoff states that as the complexity of the design increases the functionality of it decreases. Take, for instance, your handy-dandy universal remote. Now, when I was a kid we had a remote with three buttons the power, channel, and volume buttons. Or a pair of pliers when one couldn't be bothered to find the remote.

In today’s market, though, one remote can perform a myriad of functions, many of those functions we don’t even utilize. And those pliers? Well, they rarely leave the toolbox now. Every time we pick up the remote, we make ourselves suffer through a design that has flexibility but limited usability for the average television user.

Taking that knowledge and applying it to the LCARS we can determine the console design’s flexibility to usability ratio. Granted, for the average person, the console’s flexibility creates zero usability. For a trained officer, the console blends flexibility and usability to create a powerful tool specialized for the role that officer holds. 

For instance, the engineering console has all the functions necessary to perform that job as well as accounting for any future uses the engineering officers may have for the console. They won’t be hailing anyone or sending the ship into warp, though.

To ensure efficiency, Star Trek designers went for a blend of flexibility and usability that allows each division to have a specialized console. All while allowing them the freedom to handle a variety of issues from a single console.

Beautifully envisioned for the needs of a 24th Century Starfleet officer the LCARS console is quality design at work.