Interface Moss

A rolling stone gathers no moss.1 Publilius Syrus When software in a particular category stops rapidly evolving and its interface begins to develop along a set of accepted patterns, designers begin to decorate. Decoration is a luxury, it is something you can only afford to do once the functionality of the thing you are working on has been implemented to a high degree. It is in the period of gradual evolution and established interaction norms that designers begin to decorate, begin to focus on small aesthetic details for the visual experience alone. Prolonged times of slow evolution lead to decorative excess. Unable to differentiate software on the level of how it works, developers try to push it ahead on the level of how it looks. When the buttons in all the apps are the same, when the controls all appear in about the same place, when all the interfaces are laid out in a similar fashion, designers begin to differentiate their work by changing the appearance of the interface rather than its function or its structure. The interface begins to gather decorative moss. The recent minimalist trends in software design — Metro, flat, iOS7, Material — are attempts to scrape away the moss without a radical alteration in the underlying function. It is a reaction to the friction felt between the old stratum of software that has cemented its implementation and thus could afford to wear a rich visual coat, and a new stratum of software that yearns for a radically different approach to interface design. The old and the new cannot co-exist in harmony because the appearance of...

Design Trend Predictors

Joel Unger approaches the blurry, semi-transparent window aesthetic, recently introduced in iOS7 and now making its way to OS X Yosemite, from the standpoint of evolutionary biology. He argues that the reasons for this latest trend, as well as other trends, are: 1) the visual effect is relatively rare, and 2) the effect is expensive to achieve (in this case expensive in terms of graphics processing power). Both of these go hand in hand given that what is expensive to achieve is probably also going to be rare, at least for the period it still remains expensive. While these two things are initially the differentiator for the trendsetter, they will inevitably me mimicked by others, resulting in a design...

Using Small Caps & Text Figures on the Web

Typography on the Web is slowly getting better. These days it is not unusual to see custom fonts in use, and oftentimes, though not always, set in comfortable sizes, with enough padding and line spacing to ensure a pleasant reading experience. And yet, some important typographical tools are still being ignored. In this post I’ll talk about two such tools: small caps and text figures (also known as oldstyle figures). Both of them are employed in print all the time, but it is rare to see their use on the Web — largely due to the fact that the default fonts (Arial, Times, Georgia) do not support them. But today we have a larger choice of fonts that do, so let’s begin with a short introduction to these typographical features. Small caps Small caps are capital letters created at smaller size, typically the same height as a lowercase ‘x’, though sometimes a little higher. These letters are not simply capitals shrunk down in size, but glyphs created specifically for their purpose. The following figure illustrates the difference: Take a look at the comparison of the stroke width in the “A”. Both the capital and the small cap have an almost equal stroke width. The capital “A” that was shrunk down to the small cap size has a thinner stroke width. Additionally, it is itself narrower in width. Small capitals are sometimes faked by writing software or web browsers by shrinking capitals, but this often leads to a poor substitute: letters that are too thin and too light to fit in with the surrounding text. Real small caps must maintain...