The blurry window
I reviewed OSX 10.10 over the weekend, and observed a new trend emerging on the design battlefield: It’s blurry, translucent, and vibrant. But it’s also incredibly expensive and difficult to render.
In OSX 10.10, dragging a translucent window makes the panel flicker, go completely black, and breaks blur effects. Resizing a window is incredibly slow and choppy. Developers have their work cut out for them to achieve decent performance by the end of the beta, but eventually, they’ll get it right and Apple will be hailed as revolutionary once again.
Wait a second. We’ve seen this before.
Remember Windows Vista? All that glorious fogged glass? This effect was expensive to render for its time – it was so resource intensive it overheated machines, and had to be turned off. Still, it was new and interesting for the time.
Now Apple has appropriated this effect. Design ecosystems mimic biological ecosystems: Whenever a new trend takes hold or an old one reemerges in the world of design, patterns emulate competitive systems in nature. Resource-intensive adaptations often achieve substantial competitive advantages.
Mandarin Ducks, male (left) and female (right)
Polymorphism in design ecosystems
Polymorphism means “many forms.” Individuals from a polymorphic species have noticeably different appearances, but coexist in a shared ecosystem. Animals from ducks to jaguars exhibit superficial differences in markings. Variations arise to mimic other species, camouflage from predators, attract mates, and successful mutations achieve dominance. Clever adaptations enable species to carve out a local ecologic niche.
This ain’t cheap. Photo by Kristine Deppe.
Apple is totally Peacocking
Warring platforms dominate the pinnacle of the UI design ecosystem. Not everyone competes at this level – Craigslist and Reddit won’t usurp Apple anytime soon. However, when a major member of the ecosystem makes a move, all players are affected. Platforms have generous resources and high stakes when it comes to attracting customers. Apple recently raised these stakes with retina screens, another expensive competitive advantage. Reintroducing a panel that requires intensive GPU time is also resource intensive, but edges Apple ahead of other ecosystem members.
Predictable patterns emerge in the design ecosystem:
- Design trends repeat according to rarity in the ecosystem.
- Expensive and novel displays attract attention and are difficult to mimic.
Another example: Icons of the ’90s
Icons of the 90s were detailed and glossy. These icons look dated now, but for the time, this was a novel technique. Not every designer could pull off an intricate, complex icon set, and the style wasn’t easy to replicate. Those that could design complex icons had a competitive advantage, and occupied the cutting edge of UI design.
Tools and designs evolved, and this look became ubiquitous and oversaturated. The ecosystem compensated accordingly.
This might be why humans have beards… and why everything is flat.
Biologists aren’t sure why people have beards. However, a recent study has shown that beards are less attractive to humans when they’re everywhere. This research suggests that just like any other animals, humans demonstrate “negative frequency-dependent sexual selection.” Another way to put it: Rarity is sexy.
Look to natural ecosystems to predict future design trends. Closed systems provide all kinds of patterns we emulate in UI design.
What new trends can we expect in the future?
- When skeuomorphism comes back, objects will be accurately rendered by real light sources in real time. Why? Because it is bloody difficult and expensive.
- More filters. Firefox filters are on the horizon and will be used everywhere once available.
- Apple is an alpha predator and can set trends. Expect lots of mimicry in the future.