The New user interface

I was recently reading about personnel changes at Apple, with Johnny Ive, Apple’s hardware design guru taking over the reigns of design for Apple’s software. Aside from the Apple-related intrigue, the article contended that this changing of the guard might spell an entirely new era of user interface design.

Apple, and the broader technology industry, has long used the physical world as analogs, presumably to ease the transition from the physical to the digital. Apple’s calendar applications have graphics of torn pages from the days of paper calendars, and most email clients have a “CC” field, an homage to the long-forgotten days of physical memos, where a piece of carbon paper would be used to produce copies on a typewriter (hence “carbon copying” several recipients).

As a generation of workers that never experienced paper calendars, analog cameras, or reel-to-reel tape players comes into the workforce, trying to present digital analogs to these unknown technologies becomes counterproductive. It also frees application designers to experiment. Who says an audio or video application needs play, pause, rewind, and fast forward buttons? Do telephone numbers make sense? Could business processes that mimic old paper-based transactions be completely redesigned?

While wholesale abandoning or ignorance of the old is often counterproductive, clinging to irrelevant metaphors is equally so. Where could your company reinvent itself by completely abandoning a passé design metaphor?

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