Industrial Design and Skeuomorphism in School and Spirituality

by bxrtley


There’s so much amazing content being shared right now in the Desk Community As a matter of fact, this post was inspired by John curating this presentation on The Brief History of UI

There’s still a huge debate about whether or not Apple should’ve ditched skeuomorphism and submit to an industrial design philosophy. But if the reasoning I’m about to share with you is why they made such a dramatic (or traumatic) decision, then I totally agree with their evolution of iOS user interface design:

While multitouch [mobile] screens were a giant step forward for usability, the display technology itself was roughly on par with desktop and laptop computers. Text and image rendering on those screens looked best when things were tarted up a bit [i.e., when they were skeuomorphed].

But then we got retina screens, with pixels pressed right up against the glass. The effect is crisp, clear text and images, almost like a glossy magazine page.

When your eyes can no longer immediately see the shape of an individual pixel, the visual design doesn’t need to lean on tricks to make the interface look good. The content itself can stand out.

Isn’t that a gripping philosophy?! It resonates with me so much because when I heard this, I didn’t just think about Apple and industrial design. I thought about teachers and instructional design—or any type of pedagogy for that matter.

In the classroom

When you were young, your favorite teacher jumped through hoops, got messy and made mistakes with you like Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School bus. They were deeply interactive with serious play, crazy experiments and magical stories. Your world was skeuomorphed into a Disney movie! And you still learned. You still received content.

But the older you got, the more boring teachers seemed to become. Less stories, less magic, more textbook, more bland content. This isn’t the Apple industrial design type of content though. It’s more like the Windows Surface 8 type of content. Here’s why:

You might’ve gotten some teachers in secondary school or college that made Ms. Frizzle look like Mr. Rogers. But they didn’t skeuomorph your learning experience into an entire movie. They used just enough stories, fairy dust and Frizzle pop to shake things up—and your imagination and ambition took care of the rest. It’s like of like iOS’s minimalist, but still elegant design.

Yes, kids are more creative than adults. By far. But they don’t have all of the tools and autonomy that you did when you were in higher education, internship or an apprenticeship learning at the feet of our favorite professor or mentor. So less from the teacher, in a sense, was more creativity for you—if you were disciplined.

In the spiritroom

Don’t freak out about this, but when I think of industrial design vs. skeuomorphism, I also think about Jesus and his “magic”. Ever realized how much miracles he did in front of the masses, but didn’t really pull off much Frizz-ality alone with the 12 disciples?

He didn’t need to!

Miracles were designed as a gateway to grab the attention of unbelievers, critics, and those who just didn’t have a clue of what was gong on. Many places in Scripture will you notice that after such amazing miracles, Jesus switches gears and ends up teaching the entire crowd a truth about heaven. He likens the magic they saw in the physical world to the reality of what’s in the spiritual.

Yep, Jesus went from skeuomorphism to industrial design in his instructional labs. And he didn’t have to do so much skeuomorphed miracles with his disciples because after their fishing incident, they were hooked (pun intended)!

What’s industrial design all about?

Well I’ll take a another quote from the video. Then you can apply the classroom and spiritual analogies:

And that’s really what user interface design is: Taking things people already understand and using them to help them understand new things.

What your favorite teacher did, even the one in kindergarten, was skeuomorph your learning experience to a place that you could understand, so that you can be introduced to another level of information (that may have been “industrially designed”) and you’d have the ability to connect the dots between old and new, creating an “Aha!” moment.

What Jesus did was create miracles to bring the spirit world (the kingdom of heaven) to the physical, by skeuomorphing the natural world and then he transformed his watchers in to listeners, as he began introducing new lessons and sometimes unsettling truths through industrial designed narratives (or parables). And the person that wanted to hear, would connect these things.

Oh, and the “God of the Old Testament” did the same exact thing—even more so! Everything from the sacrifices, to pimped out tabernacles, dolled-up priests, wars, coalitions, jewelry, nakedness, floods, fires, blood and kings—gaaah, so much!

If your teacher made Ms. Frizzle look like Mr. Rogers, then the OT God (who’s the same as the NT God) made your teacher look like Ben Stein! Because, in a sense, the OT believers were kindergartners and the NT believers (who were now used to this type of amazing instructional design) were like rebellious college students who needed a kick in the pants.

So the OT elementary schoolers got the really magical stuff. And the NT schoolers got the mature, powerful content that allowed for that creativity and autonomy we talked about.

All in all…

The philosophy of industrial design extends beyond digital user interface. It’s life interface. And seeing it at work in the classroom and in spirituality just might be convincing enough that this stuff is meaningful.

And as far as the critics of Apple’s design philosophy change goes, I don’t disagree with them. But I can respect the direction Apple took. We’re now looking at college-level UI. But don’t get it twisted, they could go retro-Kindergarten and the UI would still be fly.