Flash

Last week Vice posted an article on Rob Ford’s newly published book, Web Design: The Evolution of the Digital World 1990-Today.

The 640-page book, full of pictures of interactive websites from prior eras, benefits from taking a wide view of the visual culture of the past: Starting at the embryonic stages of the World Wide Web, it follows the art of web design through periods of extreme experimentation on the way to the convention-driven scaffolding we have today. The book makes a compelling case through its general structure that the sweet spot of creative web design came during the late 1990s through the mid-2000s—periods in which major brands were willing to invest a whole lot of money in a website intended for show, not just tell.

Ford’s main perspective is that Flash is responsible for the Internet’s most creative era.

I started my career as a designer in the “sweet spot” Ford highlights in his book, so I am both biased and knowledgeable about the breakthroughs in web/interactive design of the period. I remember Joshua Davis and his website Praystation, where he posted his digital art experiments in Flash on an almost daily basis. Davis also provided his pre-compiled source files for anyone to take and run with. There was also Eric Natzke, James Paterson (Presstube), Robert Hodgin (flight 404) and dozens of other digital artists and experimentors pushing the envelope with what was possible with Flash on the Web.

Then there were all the nascent digital agencies blazing a trail in web design like Huge, Big Spaceship, grupoW, hi-res, RG/A, Kioken, group94, and Firstborn to name a few.

It was also during this period that I was a contributing editor to one of the larger web design portals, Moluv (it’s actually still up). As a young designer I’d sift through hundreds of website submissions every day to find just a small handful that were actually great — great interactivity, great typography, great animation, and great content.

Sure, you could say Ford and I are looking back at the Web through a rose-colored, 72dpi monitor, but it’s a fact that every immersive website – powered by HTML, Javascript, and CSS – you see today on design portals like Awwwards, siteinspire, and Designer News has it’s roots in the experimental Flash sites of the early 2000s.

Parallax scrolling, custom typefaces, scripted motion, dynamic masking, video backgrounds, interactive 3-D objects — these all began life on the Web as Flash websites.

There are also interesting comments on this Vice article over at Slashdot.org. Many of the comments are negative, shitting on Flash as a buggy plug-in, plagued by endless security holes. While the security concerns around Flash are very real (Adobe will stop distributing and updating Flash in 2020), this discounts all creative work created in Flash.

Flash’s greatest contribution to the world of digital design is it lowered the barrier to entry for creating experimental, immersive, digital experiences. Designers and artists were no longer stuck with static HTML and images. They could now express themselves though motion, sound, and interactivity. If he or she was unable to figure out how to achieve a particular effect, they could go one of the many vibrant forums and find the answer – and source files – from someone else.

Samsung continues their time-honored tradition of copying Apple.

Samsung hasn’t just copied Apple’s product design once, they’ve done it repeatedly for over a decade now. At least they’re consistent. Today’s announcement of the new Galaxy Fit is no different.

A quick look at their product renderings shows they’re not only ripping off Apple’s watch face aesthetic, but the Nike+ design style too.

Apple Watch vs Galaxy Fit Apple Watch vs Galaxy Fit

Categories:

Interface, Product

Fun Interface

John Gruber on the upcoming iOS 13 and what bothers him with the “post-iOS 7” UI:

I don’t know why, but one of those things has been bugging me a lot in recent months: the drab gray color that indicates tapdown state for list items and buttons. Putting aside skeuomorphic textures like woodgrain and leather and the 3D-vs.-flat debate, the utter drabness of tapdown states is just a bad idea. I didn’t like it when iOS 7 debuted, and I like it even less 6 years later.

In classic iOS, when you tapped down on list items or buttons, they’d instantly light up in vibrant color. The standard color was a bright cheerful blue. In iOS 7 through 12, the tapdown state is the color of dirty dishwater.

I agree with Gruber to an extent.

I remember how weird iOS 7 felt when it came out. It was the first major iOS update after Scott Forstall left Apple and Jony Ive took ownership of iOS. Readability was shitty (it used a lot of Helvetica 35 Thin) and there was poor foreground/background contrast in Control Center with greys and whites. It felt like a print designer was designing their first RGB interface. It also didn’t feel fun. Love skeuomorphism or hate it, iOS, up to version 6 felt fun (I hate to break to the the skeuomorphism haters, but iOS still a lot uses skeuomorphism, but that’s for another post).

Fast forward to today and I think iOS 12 feels much more fun. There are more rounded corners (and bigger radii on those corners), and animations have more easing to them. Transitions are not as robotically linear as they used to be.

This isn’t to say there’s not room to improve iOS and make make it more fun.

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Command + Z

Jon Gruber doesn’t think iOS has gotten ‘Undo’ right yet on iOS:

Undo has been in the same position in the same menu with the same keyboard shortcut since 1984. Undo and Redo are powerful, essential commands, and the ways to invoke them on the Mac have been universal conventions for almost 35 years. (Redo came a few years later, if I recall correctly.)

iOS does in fact have a standard convention for Undo, but it’s both awful and indiscoverable: Shake to Undo, which I wrote about a few months ago. As I mentioned in that piece, iOS does have support for the ⌘Z and ⇧⌘Z shortcuts when a hardware keyboard is connected, and the iPad’s on-screen keyboard has an Undo/Redo button. So for text editing, on the iPad, Undo/Redo is available through good system-wide conventions.

The shake gesture was fun and novel in the early days of iOS but it’s silly, inefficient, and cumbersome in 2018.

Categories:

Interface, Software

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Square Peg in a Round Hole

The Verge has a look at Google’s revamped Wear OS.

First off, ‘Wear OS?’ I know they replaced ‘Android Wear’ a while back, but when you update a product or service you’re supposed to make it better. Engineer-led companies are just the worst at product naming and branding (and Microsoft is still champ).

Secondly, Google wants their round watch interface to work so bad, but it just doesn’t:

The circle is a beautiful shape and in my 20 years of being a graphic designer I’ve seen many attempts made at round interfaces on everything from kiosks to websites, with varying degrees of success.

Screen real estate is extremely limited — therefor valuable — on a watch and by using a round screen Google is throwing away a lot of real estate. They’re also throwing away the whole history of written language.

Unless Google is presenting Mayan and Aztec calendars on their watches, circular screens are inferior to rectangular screens for presenting anything more than the time.

Categories:

Interface

Shortcuts in iOS 12

Frederico Viticci gives a great breakdown of Shortcuts, Siri, and iOS automation in iOS 12 (via DF):

Available in Settings ⇾ Siri & Search, iOS 12 features an option for users to define their own phrases for launching specific shortcuts via voice. This is done by speaking a custom phrase into a Siri recording UI that transcribes the command and creates a shortcut that can be invoked at any time. The Settings app automatically suggests recently used app shortcuts as well as other shortcuts that were previously “donated” by apps. Both recording a custom shortcut phrase and launching the phrase via Siri require an active Internet connection. Once given a custom phrase, user-configured shortcuts appear under the My Shortcuts section in Settings.

The shortcut phrases functionality is the feature I’m most excited about in iOS 12. I use Siri more and more in each subsequent year since it was introduced. My iPhone X is the snappiest iPhone I’ve had yet. What I mean by this is there is very little latency between pressing-and-holding the side button to launch Siri, speaking your command, and Siri executing that command.

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Microsoft’s flat design non-influence

Over at The Verge, Tom Warren confesses he misses Windows Phone not just for the product it was but how it pushed Apple and Google to design better mobile features in their own products:

Windows Phone has arguably changed Android and iOS, though. Microsoft aggressively pursued modern design principles at the time to launch Windows Phone with its Metro design, and Apple responded with iOS 7 and a flatter user interface. Google went one step further, with its Material Design that included bright colors, playful transitions, and a much flatter and simplified interface.

Most of Warren’s points I agree with, except this one.

I think the move from super-shiny buttons and strong drop shadows in iOS 1 through 6 to the flat aesthetic of iOS 7 has more to do with Jony Ives’ own design sensibility rising to prominence after the death of Steve Jobs and the ouster of Scott Forstall than it does with reacting to anything Microsoft was doing.

Given the number of times Microsoft has rebooted Windows Phone, we might see them blaze a trail back to skeuomorphism in the future.

C’mon Microsoft, we’re all waiting for you to dazzle us once again with your legendary design skills.

Apple Watch doesn’t need more apps.

Slack is the latest app to ditch the Apple Watch:

Like Twitter, Amazon, and Google Maps before it, Slack is ditching its Apple Watch app. The team chat and collaboration platform for businesses quietly announced the news via an update to its iOS app. But, that doesn’t mean Slack will disappear entirely from your wrist.

You’ll still be able to respond to incoming messages on your Apple Watch courtesy of rich notifications — all that’s absent is the ability to view unread mentions. So, you may not be missing much after all, which sums up the essential problem with dedicated Apple Watch apps.

This move makes sense. The Apple Watch isn’t the iPhone.

For me Apple Watch is a glanceable, health-tracking, message notifier that unlocks my MacBook when I wake it up (my favorite feature).

I have no need for the apps on my Apple Watch to mirror the ones on my iPhone.

Categories:

Interface, Mobility, Product

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Don’t Force-Close Your Apps

Over at The Verge Ashley Carman asks, Should you force close your apps?

No. No. No.

It drives me crazy when I see people do what Carman describes (and I see a lot of people do it):

I force close my apps all the time. I double click the home button on my iPhone 6S and close out of every app I’ve used, even in the past 20 minutes. It’s a terrible habit, but it makes me feel good.

I wrote about this over 4 years ago and what I wrote remains true: swiping up to kill background apps kills your battery life because it forces iOS to relaunch apps, versus merely ‘waking them up’ from their suspended background state.

What I discovered on my new iPhone X running iOS 11.2 is that Apple has made it a bit harder to close apps.

Now when you bring up the app switcher swiping up on an app card simply brings you back to your Home screen. In order to close apps, you have to bring up the app switcher and then long-press on any app card. This causes red close icons to appear in the corners of all the app cards. Now you can swipe up on app cards to close them.

But you don’t need to, so leave them the fuck alone.

Categories:

Interface, Technology