Alan Lui discusses the use of visual metaphors from older media in web design and argues that such metaphors “naturalize the limitations of the new medium by disguising them within those of older media” (Reader, page 228).
I think that the key to success with the creation of a new piece of technology is to make it as intuitive and easy to comprehend/learn as possible. That is, the key to mass-market success. There are plenty of examples of games and devices that are complicated to learn, but rewarding once you get the hang of them. I would argue that learning to type on a QWERTY keyboard is one of these things– it’s so counter-intuitive since the letters are in a seemingly random order. It was basically a mistake that we got stuck with such an inefficient letter-layout, but despite many attempts to invent new keyboards, the fact is that “no one wants to take the time and trouble to learn a new keyboard, especially if it isn’t convincingly superior to the old” (Darryl Rehr, 1996).
It seems though that Web 2.0 pioneers are in such steep competition that they are forced to make sure that their products/websites/devices are easy to use, due to the abundance of new technologies being invented all the time. And as I stated at the beginning, one of the best ways to engage your consumer is to make something accessible and useable. Indeed, with the permeation of technology into our everyday lives, people just want to be getting on with being busy and creating things, whilst having “almost perfect tools and services at their disposal” (Lialina, 2009).
People are comfortable consuming what is familiar to them, and there is also a kitch charm to having something technological be reminiscent of old media forms.
A good example for me would be the use of ‘notes’ and ‘sticky notes’ on Apple products as widgets and apps.
Macbooks come with notes on the dashboard, an alternate screen on which you can have other handy things like calculators and converters. Here’s my dashboard for you to see:
Something I notice about these notes as well is that they come with a very hand-writing-esque font, which I interpret as being yet another way in which new media cloaks and naturalises its features by “disguising them within those of older media” (Lui, 2004)
In addition to this, the iPhone has plenty of variations on the classic ‘sticky note’ idea, making use of the familiar convention of a brightly coloured square of paper on which you can write to-dos, lists, and anything else that you fancy.
Apps such as this one: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sticky-notes-pro-alarms-bump/id317468456?mt=8 make use of the classic notes idea but enhance it with features such as alarms and bump notifications, which make use of the fact that it is indeed a virtual note on a highly capable iPhone, and not just a piece of paper.
I think the entire touch screen of the iPhone/iPad model is incredibly intuitive, and this is one of the things that has contributed to its success. There is talk that the next generation of phones may involve ‘e-ink’ technology, and be flexible like paper:
While it is an interesting design, I don’t find it very natural to have to memorise a sequence of bend motions… I think that most people would take the touch-and-go nature of the iPhone any day!
Lui, A., ‘Information is Style’ in Laws of Cool: Knowledge, Work and the Culture of Information, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 195-230, 2004.
Rehr, D. (1996). Why The QWERTY Was Invented. Retrieved June 2, 2011, from The QWERTY Connection: http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/whyqwert.html
Lialina, O. “Vernaculr Wed 2” in Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied (eds) Digital Folklore Reader, Stuttgart: Merz Akademie, 2009, pp.58-69