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Mapping Art Evolution to Experience Design

August 19, 2011

in design,innovate

I clearly remember being a visual/ux designer the summer of 2007, the dawn of the very first iPhone. I had been making shiny, glowing buttons and interfaces for a while but as soon as the iPhone came out, I was instructed to mimic the high gloss gel style of those fabulous little buttons. Everyone was enchanted, everyone wanted that aesthetic. But just like architecture and art, digital design morphs and evolves.
The rather heady but amazing article on the death of Postmodernism in the Prospect, connects the causalities of the movement. It’s also a window into the changes in technology, design and the modern psychology of user experience. Too much coffee, you say? Allow me to illustrate.

In reference to postmodern architecture:

“…classical facets all stand in counterpoint to one another, offsetting and undermining and re-emphasizing…everything is over-determined and mannered; styles clash, mix, mingle.”

Keep in mind, postmodern was a response to the perfection of modern design, people felt lied to, things weren’t perfect, it was the 70’s and 80’s for heaven’s sake. Exaggerated classical accents, the obnoxious ornamentation; things we see today and cringe. Digital design is bending in a very similar way; we don’t want to be lied to, ‘If this isn’t a real book, then don’t make it look real, just give me the real touch conventions’. Granted, I think a fantastical children’s book app can play with the Victorian text on weathered parchment paper, but if I have to look at that for long, I’m going to be weary. My favorite purveyor of this thinking, Josh Clark, describes this point to perfection in his talk ‘Buttons are a Hack’. Clark asks us to strive for more natural, contextual ways of interacting with and designing interfaces.

Early 80’s music (and the brilliance of the music video) reflected the postmodern revolution to a tee.

“The classic example is David Byrne singing “you may ask yourself: how did I get here?” in the trailer for the Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense (1984), which then asks “why a film?” while he wears that famously huge suit (a statement about over-statement)…”

This bravado to call out the silliest of bravado carried us fondly through much of 80’s music; I dare you to question the awesomeness of Prince or Madonna. They were the perfect escape. But all this fantasy has worn us down and the ‘Calgon, take me away’ dream state has ended in design as well. People want real, genuine, tangible things made by people…real people with a story. Sketching, craft, the push to solve problems with design, I don’t have to make bling anymore, I can help people. This single change saved me from abandoning this career all together. If I had to hear, ‘You know, just make it look designer-ee’ or any variation therein. Curtains baby, curtains.

I’ll end with a quote from the last piece of the article, the crux connecting today’s ux world and traditional art mediums.

“A culture of care is advertised and celebrated and cherished. Values are important once more: the values that the artist puts into the making of an object as well as the values that the consumer takes out of the object.”

The net worth of what you make and who you are as a designer rests right here. Authenticity. We still create magic, but this time we get to do it the right way.

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