The intermediations of design

From Lollipop to the enchanted objects

Although resulting quite elusive and so equally fascinating, having to deal with design as topic became a “must” even for people interested in communication technology since the iPhone has been launched in 2007.

Meantime, centrifugal explosion of digital media in people’s social and personal life, alongside with multiple use of digitalSeries_logo_1 interfaces, puts design at the centre of industries as mode to differentiate products and satisfy users’ needs and desires.

On the other hand, while our body-mind goes thrSeries_logo_2ough digital portals for hundreds times every day, changes in digital design are also symptom on how fastly and (almost) unawares we dwell and readapt our personal and social being.

Indeed, as someone said, mobile screens have become the real third place of human living, being hard to find places or activities where digital screens are absent.

However, digital design should be thought as part  of design work, which aims to elaborate solutions that simplify, in a given temporal context, interactions among persons and objects/devices inside a play of reciprocal adaptation/stimulation, mainly an enriching encounter between human beings – dominated by an alchemy of feelings, senses and rationality – and human artifacts – material objects, mechanisms/procedures of various nature (mechanical, electrical, software), or a mix of them.

We should be right to think that having success regards not only knowledge about the elements of intermediation but, above all, a clear understanding of what becomes, temporallySeries_logo_4 andSeries_logo_3 dynamically, the actual context of their interaction.

Maybe,  Proctor & Gamble’s global marketing and brand building officer Marc Pritchard recalls these involvements when he states “Creativity without insight is worthless” (2014 Logo Trends, 2014).

Pritchard’s consideration about design and innovation  is in an interview arranged by LogoLounge, a site that hosts a great amount of designer’s works specialized in creation and restyling of logos.

Having the opportunity to collect different graphic solutions that associate mission/values to the brands, the web site has also the opportunity to evaluate diverse ways to face innovation and show annual stylish trends.

By the way, brand’s restyling interests us as part of a larger view on how design is working on the visual forms that populate our digital environments and feed our interactions.

Off and on-line worlds: the body of visual figure, from mimesis to osmosis

For LogoLounge, the major shifts in 2014 stylish trend involve the dimensional aspects of figures, mainly the elements that could transmit more o less deepness, but also the essentiality of forms, whose effect is to cut decorative frills, with the final result of producing simpler forms surrounded with lighter or grayer shadows in a style named flat design.

About these or other design choices, the article suggests that

As with all things, it’s about balance. When anything pushes people too far one way, the natural reaction is to push back. Perceptive designers will always be able learn from watching the pendulum as it swings between people’s wants and needs, and technology’s gifts and demands. (LogoLounge, 2014).

Indeed, a serious and challenging debate focused on implementation philosophy involving digital interface design has been recently opened among people that support flat design against the three-dimensional approach named skeuomorphism, that recalls the material forms of real objectsFlat_vs_skeu – the term skeuomorphism derives from the Greek words σκεùος (tool) e μορφή (form).

However, the intention of skeuomorphism was to help users to link digital functions with actual references detectable in their common life. The abandonment of these constraints streamlines the  aesthetic of interface that, confident in a user much more inclined to exploit the capabilities of new interaction spaces, offers innovative clues
GUI_EvolutionIn a lecture about ubiquitous media, I tried to show how the co-penetration between physical and digital worlds can be highlighted through evolution of digital interfaces.

In fact, it’s possible to individuate a progressive line along which human-machine interfaces have evolved from command lines to graphical symbolism, landing to the actual phase of user experience management.

Rejecting the recalls of physical forms rooted in a recognized materiality demonstrates how people have both familiarity and expectation of a digital hybridizations – let’s think about augmented reality.

This marks a clear change compared to mimetic recalls, activating, conversely, a dynamic and osmotic relationship between the analog realities and digital ones.

As I wrote in a previous work, Apple products have interpreted these stages very well :

to show the increasing move toward aesthetics that recall and stimulate explicitly human senses rather than only cognitive processes, [media theorist] Lev Manovich indicates Apple work in the field of software interfaces. At the same time, Manovich refers concepts elaborated by scholar and designer Brenda Laurel (1991) about theatricalization and interaction as experience. Computers engage us, require our activity and, as in theater, invite us to represent action and context, in a task in which mind, senses and feelings extend themselves.

The scholar extends the meaning of aesthetisation for information products framing it in the bigger trend of «experience economy. (…) Like any other interaction, interaction with information devices became a designed experience. In fact, we can say that the three stages in the development of user interfaces of computers – command-line interfaces, classical GUI of 1970s-1990s, and the new sensual and entertaining interfaces of post OS X era can be correlated to the three stages of consumer economy as a whole: goods, services, and experiences. Command-line interfaces “deliver the goods”, that is, they focus on pure functionality and utility. GUI adds “service” to interfaces. And at next stage, interfaces become “experiences”» (in Petullà, 2008).

Lollipop and the material design

material-iconsWe would surely agree that internet technologies adoption is a way to facilitate our engagment in always new mass social experiments.

The release of the last Android update, named Lollipop – Android is the mobile operating system platform installed on 80% of worldwide smartphones/tablets – is already starting.

Beyond being a technical upgrade, Lollipop has the ambition to undertake a clear and innovative turn in terms of graphic and interaction interface to facilitate and make sense to our user experience. The software house supporting Android, Google, speaks about “material design” to describe the principles inspiring the changes on interfaces for every application on every used devices  (smartphone, tablet, pc).

The term “material” seems to highlight the intention to give a body to the malleability of pixels, treating screen space with layered but well-distinguished (color, deepness) figures, to rise them on surface when likely objects of interaction, inviting user touch and action with the energy/magic of graphic movements.

The no-skeuomorphism move is recalled in different interviews by project manager designer, Matias Duarte, but it is already evident from the 3 basilar botton keys in smartphone homepage – already minimalist figures, but now simple geometric forms.

The new proposal seems by now to insist on the potentialities flourishing from ibridation between these technical and sensible prosthetics and imagination/body of people. How the scholar of aesthetic Pietro Montani explains, this sort of alchemy is already inscribed in the fundamental statute of our imagination and, specifically,

in its spontaneous attitude to find both its own representation and its own guide in the technical prosthetics, in which human senses extend themselves in the same constitutive and spontaneous way … In its interaction with real world, our imagination tends both to externalize itself in a technics (or in different ones) and take lessons and guides from these processes of technical externalization, without losing its creative attitude, rather increasing it.

Indeed, our imagination is, at the same time, reproductive (a device that storages and retrieves what it has preserved), productive (a device that recombines, integrates, devises and configures) and interactive (a device that influences environment modifications following a guide in what it either finds or sees, projecting itself) (2014, p. 12, my translation).

The internet of things and enchanted objects

But investigation around human technological prosthetics involves designers also in the incoming tide of smart and iper-connected objects named Internet Of Things (IoT), namely the ubiquitous diffusion of computing-supported applications and devices in human environments and bodies, as described by technologist Mark Weiser in the Ninety years. We already live in environments full of  intelligent objects developed for different purposes (wearable, health, home, automotive) and, even for these cases, development and evolution of mobile devices can be a good path to investigate interaction issues.

the allurement of iPhone, starting to interface data world through a physical and tactile grip – and  touch-screens rapidly became a standard for the entire sector of personal media – brings us to reconsider how circularity among people, media, technology and society works. So, we can go back to the origin of Weiser’s reflections and his aestethical dilemmas about relationship among the separated world of human beings, that have a their own specific intelligence and sensoriality, and the world of external things, that add too intelligence and sensoriality, a relationship aiming to a deep functional and emotional relation, opening up new life dimensions.

To say all, it also opens up to experiences we thought by now belonging to an ancient world such as animism and anthropomorphism, intuitions of primitive societies that believed to be in community with the entire universe. The return to a world thought as full of entities having will, intelligence and memory – entities that interact and influence our lives, even, as originally believed, in a deliberative way – it is, finally, a prospective we might nowadays find much more pertinent (Petullà, 2013).

EnchantedObjectsPosterDavid Rose, author of the book Enchanted objects, is an entrepreneur, scholar and professor at MIT trying to outline right strategies to succeed with IoT technology.

Following his ideas during his last presentations we might listen to the eco of Weiser’s concepts about the designer’s need for building a fluid relationship between users and objects reducing tensions that interaction normally absorbs.

Yet, to get the best tuning, Rose invites designers and entrepreneurs to use an anthropological approach whereby creation of products and services is focused on basic desires and needs as omniscience (desire to know all), telepathy (desire for human connection), safekeeping (to protect and to be protected), immortality (to be healthy and vital), teleportation (to move effortlessly), expression (to create, make and play).

“If you can invent things that resonate with people’s existing drives, desires, fantasies — the ones that we’ve had for a millennium that are revealed through fairy tales and through folklore and through pop culture — you’re much more likely to succeed. I encourage entrepreneurs and inventors to make sure they’re resonating on one of these frequencies and talking about their products in terms of satisfying one of these drives.” (Radar.oreilly, 2014).



2014 Logo Trends”, in, 5/9/2014.

Designing the enchanted future. David Rose on the IoT’s impact on our relationship with technology”, in, 11/2/2014.

Montani, P., 2014, Tecnologie della sensibilità. Estetica e immaginazione interattiva, Milano, Raffaello Cortina Editore.

Petullà, L., 2008, Media e computer liquidi. Le dimensioni dell’ubiquitous computing e la ricattura del mondo, Milano, Lampi di stampa.

Petullà, L., 2013, “Ubiquitous media. Il futuro che viviamo” in Borrelli, D., Gravila, M. (a cura), Media che cambiano, parole che restano, Milano, Franco Angeli.

Rose, D., 2014, Enchanted Objects. Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things, New York, Scribner