I've been reading a lot recently about how designers are employing different tools now to create interactive experiences. The Facebook design team apparently uses Quartz Composer to mock up interfaces, and the talented Pascal D'Silva brings his animation experience into his interface design process. While I'm more of a sketch + wireframe + photoshop guy, I find these stories very inspiring and illuminating.
I see the evolution of user interface design tools and ideas as akin to the evolution of writing techniques. While we used to carve hieroglyphs into stone, new technology (paper and ink) quickly made writing a much more easily accessible practice. Still, it was practiced only by a select group for many, many years and it would be centuries before new technology (the printing press) caused an explosion of both literacy and writing.
It feels like interactive design, these days, has just gotten to the paper and ink stage. Interactive design is in enormous demand, yet only a relatively small group of people practice it. Fewer still are any good. But a competent designer with some interaction (read: web or mobile) experience will not want for good-paying work.
The ways we tell stories and consider media are changing and becoming more fluid as interactive technology becomes cheaper and internet access becomes more ubiquitous. Anything that exists on the internet must have an interface, and that interface becomes part of the story-telling experience.
Thanks to explosion of apps and touch-screen phones, more and more people are becoming design-literate, as they must carefully evaluate what apps best serve them from a market of millions. Some of the design feedback I've gotten from app-store reviews is more articulate that of any creative director under whom I've worked. After literacy and comprehension, the next natural step is creation. Those rating and reviewing apps might be inclined to say hell, I'll just design my own solution to this problem.
The major bottleneck right now is the considerably dated set of design tools available. While the cost of a decent Mac and Photoshop have dropped considerably, the toolset for interaction design is stratified and confusing. At this point it's like pen and ink, keeping in mind you need to kill and pluck the bird for the quill, and grind and distill plants to make the ink. Once you've bought a Mac and Photoshop you're just at the beginning of setting up the technology, to say nothing of learning technique.
As the articulate Julie Zhuo notes, some bleeding-edge designers have taken to using more advanced tools such as Quartz Composer to properly bring life to their ideas. Quartz Composer is less of a design/layout tool, and more of a visual programming interface. It's a very arduous process, even for someone like me who has practically lived in the Creative Suite for a decade and has been building websites since the age of 13.
What interaction design needs is a typewriter. We need a simple, accessible, way for beginners to learn and practice the craft. The learning curve of Photoshop is far too steep to be this product. And we need a better way for experienced designers to build beautiful layouts and take them beyond static mockups. I've yet to thoroughly evaluate Quartz Composer, but I'm highly skeptical it alone will live up to this task.
There's a huge market out there and a whole new type of literacy to be realized. I'm looking forward to using some new tools and making a few of my own.
Here in "the city" (New York City) and the Bay Area (I assume) you're starting to see people walking around with these funny, asymmetrical glasses. If you're reading this, you know that I am referring to Google Glass. Personally, I've quite enjoyed the discussions and polarizing reactions that this product evinces. I've seen a unique type of visceral revulsion to Google Glass from many other-wise technophilic programmers and technology workers, and I have to confess that part of me shares the same feeling of disgust. As a friend said "I don't want a heads up display for my life."
I believe many of us can largely agree with that sentiment. It's strange, unfamiliar territory. The most immediate possibilities of Google Glass appear to appeal to those that buy into the notion of the Quantified Self, a small movement that proposes we can and should better ourselves by carefully quantifying and analyzing our behavior. I'm not going get into a polemic on why I believe this technocratic approach is facile and foolish. I will simply say that it doesn't appeal to me for a variety of reasons.
I propose that the best use of immediate, contextual information, as provided by the internet and devices like iPhones and Google Glass, is to better one's own knowledge, in the hope that over time that knowledge can be transformed into wisdom. I don't believe that overloading ourselves with scattered information, as mass media and social networks tend to do, really helps us become wiser, happier people. I do believe, however, that contextual information for our immediate surroundings, especially informed by the latest image, text, and video recognition technology, can be a useful tool to grow our knowledge and change our behaviors for the better.
An example: for breakfast today I ate a very high starch and high lectin meal of a breakfast sandwich and hash browns. I happen to know that my body has fairly good tolerance for lectins and starch, and that I'll have plenty of energy throughout the day without consuming much more than water, fruit, and a light dinner.
Up until recently, I had no idea what lectins are, or that people's reaction and tolerance to them varies wildly, or that there are many people adopting reduced-lectin diets and seeing great benefits to their health. (Lectins are a common type of protein that often functions as a type of natural pesticide.) This is the kind of information that would be amazing to learn contextually, while we're doing something mundane like ordering food. It's one thing to read about diets and nutritional information online, but quite another to be informed in real time about the caloric costs and potential reactions with one's biochemistry.
Of course, many cultures and civilizations have learned these gastronomic lessons and developed specific dishes and ways of eating that prevented the need for this type of technological overkill when it comes to eating in the first place. But since our way of eating in the U.S. has become intricately tied with capitalism and our embrace of efficient, immediate consumption (drive-ins, delivery, Seamless!), there is no reason why we shouldn't use technology to correct it.
I see Google Glass as a set of training-wheels for reality. On a bicycle, you learn quickly that you must learn how to balance yourself and pay attention to the activity and curves in the road ahead. If you don't you will quickly crash and have a painful reminder to stay balanced. Young children's bicycles are given training wheels, a simple device that gives them a gentle cushion and awareness when they are off-balance and not riding smoothly. I believe that as a species, we are still young children - immature, egotistical, easily distracted, and largely off-balance. Some training wheels might be just the thing we need to help correct our poor habits and learn to pay attention to the road ahead. That is, until Glass gets video games.
I hadn't really listened to the Beatles until 2012, at the age of 27, when I first heard 'Tomorrow Never Knows' on Episode 8 of Season 5 of Mad Men. It's played at the end of the show, when Megan leaves for an audition but gives Don a copy of Revolver beforehand. Don puts on the record and a rare montage scene occurs of many characters as John Lennon's doubled voice implores you to 'turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.' I immediately thought, and felt: 'Oh, this is what it fucking sounded like then.'
Hearing this song, in the context of the rest of the excellent but very different Mad Men soundtrack, was, for me, a moment of musical revelation. For the first time I began to truly appreciate the Beatles not only as a talented pop band, but as some of the most avant-garde musicians in the 20th century. Many writers have pointed out the watershed nature of this song in more detail.
After hearing this song I promptly stopped listening to everything contemporary and began to thoroughly listen to nothing but the Beatles for a solid month. This experience had a profound effect on my psyche. With a few exceptions, the Beatles are a an unrelentingly positive band and contrast to the layers of irony present in much of contemporary pop music.
The true resonance of 'Tomorrow Never Knows' for me, is its position as a western artistic interpretation of eastern spirituality. Prior to hearing this song I had studied little of eastern culture and had only an idle curiosity on the subject of spirituality. Hearing the Tibetan Book of the Dead-inspired lyrics through Lennon's voice and Martin's sonic distortions, somehow focused my mind and gives one a new lens to view abstract eastern spiritual ideas. Because of these lyrics and many others from Lennon and Harrison, I began my own inquisition into the both modern and ancient knowledge from India, Tibet, China, and Japan, and have inadvertently underwent a more transformative experience than any psychedelic drug. But that's another story.
The Beatles, of course, had their own journeys and famous trips to India, and ended up in different places. The resulting post-Beatles solo works are amazing illustrations of their different perspectives. From Lennon's disavowal of all but love to George Harrison's humanist embrace in 'My Sweet Lord', a plethora of Western reactions to eastern spiritual practices are catalogued.
Somehow, in the resulting decades, the material of pop musicians shifted back to more, well, material subject matter. How that happened has been discussed by far more erudite writers than me, but it remains worth noting how powerful the Beatles work remains, especially shown in the context of another era.
So thanks, Mr. Weiner, for helping me really listen to the Beatles.