Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Digital Aesthetic New Normal

The launch of iOS7 and Apple's formal distancing from skeumorphic design and this Smashing Magazine article touches on this idea of "authenticity" and what it truly means in terms of formal, interactive, visual and aural aesthetic to how we consume and use technology.

This is a major shift, not only indicative of category direction, but also the supposition of the average American citizen becoming and more digitally relevant and reliant.The most recent Pew study saw some 85% of adults going online with trending movement toward the untethering of desktop devices: an emphasis on mobile-only. A rising tide raises all ships and we are literally witnessing the market shift of a primed digital user base.

In the early iterations of iOS, sprinkling vestiges of the past- a cork calendar liner, rendered double stitching, slightly torn calendar page- acted very much as the training wheels to launch people into digital's own aesthetic. Understanding a calendar app is meant to be used like a desk calendar helps the user acclimate to intent and utility. The slow build-up of digital-centric actions in the context of skeumorphic sandboxes, actions like swipe, scroll, pinch and double-click over the past five years have led digital citizens to now being dumped into the deep-end of the pool. With flat design, we don't need shadows to know buttons are clickable nor phone icons to know to make a call; these behaviors have now been learned through countless operating systems, independent apps, 3.0 websites and hardware upgrades.

From any major aesthetic shift, especially within the most democratic arenas, digital and the web, the question of validity, and "authenticity" is inevitably raised. In the past, our reliance on vestigial representations of objects and actions like camera lenses, making a phone call, taking notes, calendars, even within iconography- a physical envelope for e-mail, a folder icon for a collection of documents- these so-called "ornaments," are actually functional in their aesthetic. They guide the viewer to understand how to interact. They are bread crumbs.

Exhibit A: Left, skeumorphic iCal; Right, Flat iCal

The article expounds this idea of digital design being "authentic," and I really do believe that this is the key make or break moment for designers to define this authenticity. At the shift of every design movement, from the renaissance to modernism, there is always a learning curve and digital will suffer most of all from it. There will always be the Apples and Googles slowly pushing forward, but its truly the brilliant experiences that a new digital audience uses, loves and relies on that will define exactly digital authenticity is. I'm excited more than anything to chart its direction in the future and see how well we do without our training wheels.

No comments:

Post a Comment