Artificial Horizon

Articles and links about the design process
by Thibaut Sailly

July 2008 Archives

This post is a comment to the Stevens Creek TripLog/1040 UI design discussion happening on John Gruber's Flickr entry and Ryan Singer's SVN entry.

Sreengrab from Gruber's Flickr stream

The first thought I had about this iPhone app's screenshot was, as many : "hammer, please".
But it's not pure villainy, just excessive sensitivity, and there are some logical facts backing this gut feeling, one of them being : this design mixes 2D and 3D features without any meaningful intentions regarding this dichotomy. It even seems to have no understanding of this dichotomy at all, which is even worse. But the beautiful thing about a mess is that you can only do better. Here are some comments which will hopefully help in this sense.

Pretty much every OSX and Apple apps UIs share this common analogy : they don't display a rendering of a flat, 2D, printed surface, but it shows an arrangement of items that can be described with height, material and texture proprieties. All these simulated 3D objects react to a single (or a single set of) light source, consistently from one screen to another. Every Apple designed iPhone app lives under a softbox giving this fat glossy reflection on top of the iTunes/AppStore/Sms/... buttons, and a more diffuse gradient on top of the Notes button, for example. You can visit every apps on your mac and imagine how it would look like if you turned these lights off. Not that it would turn you on, but it goes a long way to express how consistent the MacOSX UI is.

Newton on a bike

July 12, 2008

Jour de fête

version française.

Going for a coffee this afternoon, I saw a fancy cyclist standing still on his two wheels only, waiting for his turn at the red light. He stood like this, without moving an inch for a good 30 seconds : well done, champ.

This had me thinking that in fact, being able to gain equilibrium on two turning wheels is quite striking, as mundane as it can be for us today. On our dear western society technological achievements timeline, the appearance of the bicycle* is oddly late, compared to tremendously more complex concepts that came to us before that.

See, the men who knew there was hydrogen in the sun (Angström, 1861), knew the speed of light (Foucault, 1850), communicated through a telegraph (Morse, 1844), understood the gravity phenomenon (Newton, 1687) and who were 5 years close to discover the automobile didn't know what it was to pedal and move forward at the same time.

Imagine the confusion and awe in Voltaire's or Benjamin Franklin's mind if they had been overtook by a bike while on their morning walk.

* the one with a chain drive, introduced around 1880, not the crotch-cruncher known as the Draisine that appeared in 1818.

Movie still : Jour de fête by Jacques Tati.

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