Losing Control: Beyond the Surface of the Aesthetic Interface

Geoff Hinchcliffe

Manovich defines the trend of the "aestheticisation of information tools" as resulting from their increased use in non-work environments such as the home. He claims that the interfaces' "associations with work and office culture and the emphasis on efficiency and functionality came to be replaced by new references and criteria. These included being friendly, playful, pleasurable, aesthetically pleasing, expressive, fashionable, signifying cultural identity, and designed for emotional satisfaction. Accordingly, the modernist design formula "form follows function" came to be replaced by new formulas such as "form follows emotion"." (http://www.receiver.vodafone.com/17/articles/index09.html)

This paper makes a critical analysis of graphic user interfaces in order to define the characteristics and priorities of the "aesthetic interface". It is demonstrated that the aesthetic interface often avoids standard interface design conventions in order to disrupt expectations of efficiency and instead elicit a state of "mindfulness" in users. Play is identified as a vital device in this quest for user attention.

Rather than simply cosmetic, it is argued that the highly stylised, overt nature of the aesthetic interface represents acceptance and exploitation of the mediatory role of the interface. In contrast, conventional interface aims of transparency indicate a denial of the necessity of mediation between system and user via the interface.

The conspicuous mediation of the aesthetic interface and its shift in priorities from control and efficiency to experience and play demands what Manovich describes as a "form follows emotion" design formula. In conclusion, the paper considers how such a formula is represented in design and development practices and references theoretical frameworks and development processes of entertainment media already familiar with emotive, experiential engagement of an audience.

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