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Thoughts, Work, and Coffee

Don’t just make things flat.

Everyone has something to say about iOS 7. The release has turned a number of people into intense UX/UI critics, particularly regarding those new icons. The word “skeuomorphism” has been thrown around quite aggressively by people who aren’t yet comfortable with what it means. Moreover, the single-minded desire for a “flat” aesthetic seems to be prevalent amongst the chatter of consumers. With all the excitement, it’s easy to forget that the growing trend is a nod towards something much bigger and more important than removing shadows.

Interfaces have largely become simpler and cleaner. “Minimalism” dominates contemporary culture, from the art we enjoy to the music we listen to. To call it a trend wouldn’t be fair; it’s a pattern, and a successful one. Flat design follows in step, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the first thing to reach for when creating something new.

“Simplistic design is effective, and [its] latest flavor is flat design… though, flat design certainly doesn’t encompass all of minimal design.” Katherine Frazer

Here’s an example: Go open up Facebook.

Unless you’re one of the lucky few with the newsfeed update, you’ll be presented with:

  • Your newsfeed,
  • A list of favorites, pages, groups, and apps to the left,
  • A bunch of ads on the right,
  • A mini feed telling you what’s happening in real-time,
  • Your online friends, and
  • A bunch of chats scattered across the bottom.

That’s a lot of information. So many different elements of the screen are vying for your attention, and it’s inundating.

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of… the attention of its recipients.” Herbert Simon

In other words, there is literally more information presented to us than we can consume, and attention becomes something of a commodity. There’s a whole field of study around this principle, but it implies that attention is both scarce and hugely important (If you liked that quote and have some time to kill, check out Simon’s paper on the topic).

One of the reasons that “flat” interfaces are so appealing is because of the attractiveness that comes with minimal design. Our minds don’t have to splinter our attention across dozens of components. The aggressive nature of complexity is deadening and confusing, and simplicity is fresh and beautiful. Facebook seems to have taken the hint: their new interface isn’t perfect, but its much cleaner and more distraction-free. It isn’t flat, but it doesn’t need to be.

As a friend pointed out, aesthetic simplicity is nothing new. Minimalism has been a design cornerstone for far longer than the internet. Dieter Rams noted that good design is often “as little design as possible,” decades before the first web browser. As interface development becomes more and more expressive, it becomes easier to implement well-designed websites and applications. The web is finally catching up to the world of design.

iOS 7 isn’t entirely flat, but that’s not the point. It’s not enough to remove gradients and highlights and shadows and throw in a few bright colors here and there. The new OS attempts to be simple, clean, free of clutter wherever possible, and that’s what’s important. While flat design may be minimal, minimal design isn’t always flat.

Don’t make things flat. Instead, make things simple. Do it because it’s attractive. Do it because it’s beautiful. Above all, do it because it’s good design.

The side of DRM we forget.

I’ve decided not to abandon all hope for the Xbox One just yet.

As the dust from E3 settles, it’s quite apparent that the new Xbox has taken quite a beating. The revelation that the console would feature a strict, one-copy-per-person game policy hasn’t been very good for its public reception, particularly considering DRM has never been a popular method of license-enforcement. DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is a blanket term for technology used to control the access to content after it has been sold, primarily for copyright reasons. The Xbox One, in particulary, needs to check-in with Xbox authentication servers once a day. In addition, games can only be traded once, and only then to people you’ve been friends with for more than 30 days. This news, coupled with the fact that the successor to the Xbox dynasty is $100 more expensive than its Sony counterpart, seems to doom the console before it even hits the shelves.

But isn’t that what Steam does?

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Hello, world.

I woke up this morning and decided that I hated everything.

If by this morning I meant some time mid-December, I’d be telling the truth. I was more or less tired of looking like a middle schooler to the internet, so much so that I stopped telling people that I had a blog. It had become something of an eyesore, full of outdated content and poorly modified php. So, I drafted a new theme from scratch, tore out some 30 unused plugins, and hid all my old posts (you can still find them if you search for them, though).

I set about coding this theme, which I now call Calcium, around the start of winter break. I was holed up in my house for about a month and, having completed finals and such, needed something to occupy my time. I had no obligations, I had no classes, and I had all the time in the world. So, naturally, I stayed inside and stared at my computer screen.

Looking at the github repo for this theme, my indecisiveness is more than apparent. I went through several design iterations, essentially starting over each time. I had a good deal of help from my less aesthetically challenged friends, which I greatly appreciate. The theme leans solidly on Skeleton, from which its name was derived, and takes visual cues from sites like Medium and Svbtle. After a few months of poking around, I ended up settling upon this.

There’s a lot to be done still (the “Contact” and “About me” pages are terrifying), but it’s at a place that I’m reasonably happy with. If you catch any obvious bugs, or have any critical feedback, please tell me. I’ll be updating the contents of this site over the course of the next few weeks, weeding out categories and pages and useless posts.