On The “Blanding” Of Web and Mobile Design: Some Light Reading

You don’t have to work for a tech company or be a professional designer to be able to intuit some things about mobile and web design. Over the past several years, designers have eschewed patterns and interface components inspired by the real world (a design trend known as skeuomorphic design). Lots of bloggers covered this shift, which kicked off somewhere around 2012, but for a good re-cap, you might want to check out John Gruber’s post on the subject.

There is a lot of internal corporate politics around this shift, primarily focused on the conflict between Apple executives in the wake of Steve Jobs’s death. Jony Ive won, and former iOS head Scott Forstall, who so loved the Corinthian leather pattern and pool table felt patterns that used to adorn several iOS apps, did not. Apparently, in the wake of his departure from Apple, Forstall threw his hat into the ring of Broadway musical production, so I guess it all worked out for him.

So-called “flat design” was in, but it was not all Apple’s doing. Lest we forget, though, that Microsoft’s Metro design language was one of the first to embody the characteristics of flat design in user interfaces on both desktop and mobile devices.

Twitter’s Bootstrap front-end framework, despite some relatively gaudy gradients in initial releases, eventually flattened out into the simple, bright aesthetic we’re used to today. Like, with Bootstrap in particular, its style is so monolithic that it’s become the subject of parody (NSFW language warning). Bootstrap definitely did its part to make flat design the aesthetic standard throughout the contemporary commercial web.

But now that brings us to today. On one end of the spectrum is the revival of 1990s-style websites as part of the Web Brutalism movement to the spare aesthetics of Medium and its content platform peers on the other.

For those who want to learn more, I made a small and rather incomplete list of readings and resources on the subject of web design and trends therein. Consider it a small jumping off point.

Whatever happened to the web page?

In a long answer to the question, “Whither the Webpage?” for The Awl, JSTOR Daily producer Charles Thaxton follows up his review of the recent “web brutalismcommentary with an incisive and delicious set of points: “As the investor class pivots toward video, the web actually stands a decent chance of becoming more disjointed and oddball and ecumenical in its design, and in turn more spontaneous or creative in its spirit […] But! It also stands to replicate the worst aspects of television: passivity, mediocrity, a plurality of superficial choice with the same indistinguishable affect. Not to mention new sorts of vacuity and horror specific to a post-platform age. I don’t know a lot about virtual reality, but I’m told to prepare myself not for ads but for ‘branded experiences.’”

A (now somewhat dated) corollary to the first one

Awl co-editor John Herrman explores the varying shades of blue used throughout modern social networking sites in his 2014 piece, “Internet, Why So Blue?”

“Complexion Reduction” is not a skincare treatment, it’s the post-Flat design paradigm du jour

Michael Horton, a UI and UX designer based in NYC, recently discussed a brand new trend in mobile design, “Complexion Reduction” in a post on Medium. The defining characteristics of Complexion Reduction, according to Horton, are:

  1. Bigger, bolder headlines;
  2. Simpler more universal icons;
  3. Extraction of color.

His post includes many screenshots to prove his point and a delightfully ironic guide to CR design at the bottom. It also includes this observation on the new trend: “[Your] iPhone home screen will soon become nothing more than a colorful mosaic of bright portals transporting you to Pleasantville.”

On The Joys of Bookcases & Cleaning Thereof

I judge people based on their bookcases. Because I’m moving into student housing this academic year, I’ve had the unique pleasure of hauling a couple hundred books from my apartment to my home in the Chicago suburbs in the heat of late June and carrying them up to my room a month later.

They (i.e. the books) resided in temporary storage in my downstairs, where, on the floor, the bottom books of a half dozen stacks were damaged in the floods that afflicted the Chicago area last month. Lost were several marginal volumes of the Harvard Classics (e.g. Elizabethan Drama, et al.) and some fiction which I’d’ve gotten rid of eventually. What pained me most was the loss of a couple of John Updike anthologies, the massive tomes of bound book reviews, essays, articles, and self-referential flotsam and jetsam that A. A. Knopf released over the course of John’s prodigious writing career.

Sadly, I spent an evening meticulously separating pages from their spines and boards so that they (the pages and non-cloth-bound boards) may be recycled. It was a rather pitiful, sentimental experience. It was at this moment that I remembered that financial loss was limited to under one hundred fifty dollars, and that I could make an adventure of replacing three treasured volumes that are, alas, out of print. I have several reliable sources that tell me that Paris and London, where I’m headed in September, have exceptional used book stores; I’m a prodigal bibliomane, and something tells me I’ll be spending a lot of time in labyrinthine mazes of bookcases searching for a British first edition of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, among others.

The process of expiating my room of clutter yielded books and magazines I believed to be lost. Although I am an aggregator of bound printed matter, I’ve resigned myself to failure in certain respects. I came across a small stack (20 issues) of New Yorker magazines from 2005-7 (yes, I was already a somewhat jaded reader of the New Yorker when was fifteen). I read through the cartoons and James Surowiecki’s financial/economic commentary. There was hope in his pieces, and a strange feeling arose in me after reading a 2005 article that painted credit default swaps as the best thing to hit Wall Street since securitization of equity shares of companies into tradable “shares” of “stock.”

I realized then, after reading this article, that there are some ideas that, like credit default swaps and saving New Yorkers for future reading, seemed like great ideas at the time but are ultimately indefensible lost causes. It was a goal of mine to lean out my book collection such that it fit onto two eight-foot high shelves. I came close.

What isn’t pictured in these photos are another eighty or so softcover nonfiction books, my high school yearbooks, and a large box of letters sent to me over the years. I’ll pick through it all, and the people who rummage through books left for the taking outside of Powell’s on 57th Street will find their book collections richer for my efforts.