As for this week’s reading, especially for Manovich’s piece, I’ve gained some mind-blowing thoughts, which stem from sentences like: “All intellectual work is now ‘software study’”, “I think of software as a layer that permeates all areas of contemporary societies.” (Manovich, 7) All these point to the social effect the software brought about, endow software/interface with social and cultural functions, and discuss their role as our extended mind and milieu. I couldn’t help but thinking of how my 6 year old cousin could easily playing around with an iPad without any instructions. As a child like my cousin, he is used to the fact that digital technology has permeated every sphere of his life. Certainly, professor Irvine’s wiki question is pretty urgent: admit that the interface has such tremendous impact on both human mind and social functioning, what is the thing behind/in the interface that changes us?
It occurs to me that this question may come to the work of a product designer. Consider, the search engine start page for example.
Here are two screenshots of Google’s homepage; one from May 1999 and one from now. Although the history is as long as 13 years and web has dramatically changed over time, Google’s search page doesn’t seem to change much. It was easy to navigate/use Google back in 1999, it’s still easy to start now. The message conveyed is that this interface has been designed well enough so anyone could use it, no matter the user is a grandma or a child – this is the same as the iPad case of my little cousin. To take a further step, I would say by making the homepage and search bar simple and clear, by enabling the user to start the search with one click, Google also lets people know how fast/immediate it takes to acquire information. In Steve Krug’s best-seller book Don’t Make Me Think, the key concept/principle of designing website is presented in a few words “Don’t make me think”, this instant classic on Web usability is still being discovered by people everyday. This is perhaps the golden rule of interface design: always putting ourselves in the position of the user, always assuming the user never think and has very few time when browsing the sites, and try to be simple, friendly and reliable. These simple steps have been embedded in people’s mind and they have constantly been using Google as a information search tool, as the word Google became a verb and associated with special social meaning- “Google is your friend” – a long time ago.
The more approachable and user-friendly the interface/software is, the more dependable it becomes. This involves a strong love from the designer to both the interface and the user. Here is my custom Google page, which was unsurprisingly called iGoogle. The interface becomes much complex than the general one, but since it is what “I” set, and as the word “I” has been capitalized, I won’t feel complicated when using the page. It gives me choices, spoils my music taste (coldplay header), provides me multiple functions (weather report, news blog), and even entertains me with super cute game plug-ins. At this point, the interface has become a part of the user’s belongings, and the user has been presented on the interface. Who will deny himself/herself and knock his/her own ideas out of the window? By closely linking the user and the interface, the website succeeds in attracting people and transforming them into its followers.
At last, I think of the high risky long-distance relationship. More than twenty years ago my parents wrote letter to communicate and last their relationship when they were apart, and now my boyfriend and I constantly communicate with each other by using software like QQ (Chinese Instant Messenger) and Skype. Printing media was the bond of love in the past, while digital media becomes the bond of love at present. The same passion lies in the two “software” (letter and online message), and they have amazingly similar interfaces: a letter is a piece of paper with text written on it, while in an online message box the same conversation goes on. The love/passion for a world of good visible interface goes on as well. Similarly, our course may end, but will never stop.
Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command (ebook version, 2008), excerpt, attend especially to the section on “Cultural Software”.
Nick Hughes, Here’s Google’s Homepage 1999 vs. 2012. Can You Tell The Difference? http://soentrepreneurial.com/2012/01/09/heres-googles-homepage-1999-vs-2012-can-you-tell-the-difference/