Design is integral to how we interact with our devices. Whether it's iOS with its skeuomorphic UI, or Windows 8 and its stark and bold tiles, building devices people love interacting with means creating a cohesive design language for people to connect with. We discuss the design connection between virtual mobile environments and the real world spaces we inhabit...
It wasn't always this way. Not a lot of thought necessarily went into how DOS felt. These days technology is a lot more accessible, and decades of brilliant design work and engineering has gone into getting intuitive and easy to use technology into the hands of everyone.
The look and feel of your OS of choice can be very personal. Android fans love the freedom for personalization, Apple fans the ease of use and simplicity of the OS. Whatever your personal taste, it's the user interface design of these devices you really connect with when you use them.
The aesthetic language of an OS is about interaction, it's about creating a virtual space you engage with. With all the thought that has gone into a given OS and its app ecosystem, is there maybe something we can learn here about how we choose functional and decorative design elements in the real world?
Let's take a look at the big players today and consider what we might take away from the design language of Apple, Google Android, and the new Windows 8. How might we apply those aesthetic vocabularies to specific real world decor solutions?
Apple In both iOS and OSX Apple is known for its skeumorphic design style. This means many of its visual elements mimic real world equivilents. Button and toggles are embossed or shadowed to create the subtle effect of dimension. Sliders on the iPad are metallic, like brushed aluminum. In the background of the OS, both iOS and OSX use a dark linen (for example in desktop folders in iOS, or the multitasking bar).
Many stock iPad apps also provide examples of skeumorphic design, for instance the bookshelf display for the newsstand app, or the leather texture and page flip of the calendar and contacts app.
Light switch Apple both in it's industrial design and OS design uses the look of brushed metal, often with round smooth edges and lines. These brushed metal light switches from online retailer Lighting Direct offer a simliar look, available as dual switches, single switches and dimmers.
Storage Books and magazines on iOS reside in an app that is nothing more than a simple wooden bookcase. While obvious, and perhaps a bit too analogous to the real world solution (these are digital media after all), the point is simple; if you have never used an iPad before, and you want to find your books? They are on the shelf.
Wall coverings Apples subtle linen texture has found its way into many of the apps on iOS,(the background of the browser for example). Many designers of app and web have also added textures like this to add dimension to their designs (check out texture resource Subtle Patterns for examples of this).
Google Over the past couple of version upgrades to Android, the focus on design has improved substantially. Android, though taking many design queues from Apples iOS, offers a far more stark and minimalist approach to design. Buttons and interactive elements are visually flatter when compared to iOS but still remain intuitive. In general the interface is darker, and more geometric.
One of it's central points of differentiation from iOS is the use of widgets in Android, allowing for information, media, or even interactive elements to appear on the desktop along side app icons. In general the look of Android offers greater customization, and so user tastes play a bigger role in the overall look of a given Android device.
Light switch One of Android's strengths is it's easy access (via either widgets or it's robust notification drop down) to various settings you use frequently. In fact the newest version of Android 4.2 even offers a quick list icon based of the settings you use most, like wifi or bluetooth.
With it's flat non-tactile look and touch based controls this very modern icon based dimmer switch (available on AliExpress) definitely comes pretty close to what we might see as an Android widget, or control.
Storage Again Android widgets really do offer a compelling upgrade from plain old rows of icons, letting you layout a custom home screen which gives you access to information and media at a glance.
To achieve this in our home, simple minimalist floating shelves do really nicely to let us keep things like books or movies out and on display, in interesting configurations along our walls. The Ikea Lack system offers a great range of simple floating shelves, which to mimic the look of Android widgets on a desktop, you might set up in various offset configurations.
Check out the above video for a comprehensive how to on setting up the Lack system in your home.
Wall coverings Android Jellybean comes with a selection of colorful yet muted abstract geometric wallpapers, often with a subtle texture. This Prism design fabric from Mokum captures that effect nicely to bring that modern geometric look to your wall or curtains.
Microsoft Microsoft has recently released its latest version of Windows, Windows 8 which moves forward with a entirely new design language. Introduced as "Metro", the new aesthetic is a radical departure from the Windows most are familier with. Moving away from icons and windowed panels, the new Windows uses dynamic live tiles to launch apps and display information.
The new interface has been designed to be more touch friendly, and so many of the UI elements reflect that. Gestures expose navigational panels which slide in from the edges, and navigational elements called "charms" give you contextual settings. The live tiles are active, and resizable, often colorful blocks. Simplistic lightweight typography is used throughout.
Light switch Microsoft has been slowing introducing there new design language over a range of products for a few years now. The Xbox and Windows media center have been a testing ground for the look that we now see converging in the new Windows 8.
This energy efficient dimmer switch from CP Electronics really reminds of me the design used for the Xbox 360 power control. Also, in the new Windows, many controls and the new "Charms" interface are circular icons, which in comparison to the rounded rectangles of iOS and haphazard icon design of Android, is becoming a distinctive design feature of Microsoft's Metro look.
Storage For much of it's history as a product Windows has been built around the file explorer, and it's metaphor of a file cabinet filled with folders. While this paradigm still exists under the surface of the new Windows (see what I did there?), the new tiled interface offers a new way of browsing software and media.
To achieve a similar aesthetic in decor, we turn to the Ikea Expedit with it's organizational grid. With a wide array of colorful doors, and bins which fit the cubed Expedit, it's a pretty good analogy to the Windows 8 start screen.
Wall coverings The background of the Windows 8 Start screen is by default a deep blue, with various gradient flourishes. Microsofts design aesthetic in Windows 8 is very blocky, with lots of varying and contrasted bright colors, with the occasional decorative flourish.
To achieve this look at home, choose a rich, highly saturated color for your wall and maybe jazz it up with some vinyl flourishes to bring in some shape and style. Etsy store Vinyl Wall Accents has some fantastic and large designs to bring some added dynamic to an otherwise plain painted wall.
Inspiration in design, whether it be in home decor or in the world of software can draw from a wide range of sources. It's an exciting time for designers as cross pollination between so many different disciplines creates new ways of doing things.
The challenge is to keep a consistant vocabulary on any given project, to set rules that can generically guide you through planning and design. When considering how you style you're home, set a template of aesthetic and functional rules for yourself and develop a personal design language. In doing so, you'll help to create a space which is both personal and functional and that is hopefully intuitive and usable to others as well.
(Images as linked, lead image Sean Rioux)
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