Looking closely at your desktop, you might see something creeping..

 

Introduction

In Human-Computer Interaction research advances are made in Intelligent Computing. This is expressed in the development of The Internet of Things (IoT), Ubiquitous Computing and Ambient Intelligence, in which microprocessors are integrated in our everyday surroundings to be able to react to our presence. Think about the smart thermostat that controls the heating in our houses without us noticing the computing or the interaction with other devices. Same thing goes for natural interfaces. Google’s Project Soli[1] is a gesture based interface which makes devices react to our natural input, instead of using clicks, screens and buttons. In these cases, the interaction with computers is supposed to be as natural as possible, which means the computing process itself is hidden. The urge to design human-computer interaction in a way that is as natural as possible is not something new. Already in the ‘90s computer scientist Mark Weiser started his article “The Computer for the 21st Century” (1991) with the sentences:

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday live until they are indistinguishable from it.”[2]

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin wrote about “transparency” and the desire for “immediacy” in user-interface design in Remediation: Understanding New Media (2000). Transparency, in this case, refers to the design of the interface as if it’s not even there. An interface-less interface. This is part of the desired immediacy. The user shouldn’t be aware of the interface at all, but should be in immediate connection to its content.[3] So in the case of Project Soli or IoT, we should not even notice the input we give, but the computer registers our gestures, our face, motion or other devices and “reads” these to perform the output we are supposed to be wanting at that moment. The output, in this case, is the only visible thing to us users. This hiding of the processes of computation and the diminishing of every visual aspect of it, interests me. It raises questions about the impact on our knowledge of computation as well as on our experience of it when something invincible reacts to us. How does it affect our sense of agency regarding technology? While natural interfaces and IoT are still in development, already today we often regard technology and digital processes as something that overcomes us. Something we cannot see, but which has effect on our daily lives. For example, when sending digital files into ‘the Cloud’, this metaphor feeds into our idea of the digital as something weightless and “floating”. As Wendy Chun writes in Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (2011):

“As our machines disappear, getting flatter and flatter, the density and opacity of their computation increases. Every use is also an act of faith: we believe these images and systems render us transparent not for technological, but rather for metaphorical, or more strongly ideological, reasons. As stated earlier, this paradox is not accidental to computing’s appeal, but rather grounds the computer as a useful and provocative, indeed magical, model. Its combination of what can be seen and not seen, can be known and not known—its separation of interface from algorithm; software from hardware—makes it a powerful metaphor for everything we believe is invisible yet generates visible effects, from genetics to the invisible hand of the market; from ideology to culture.”[4]

It is this duality in computation and digital processes that we find ourselves surrounded- and interacting with, but of which we don’t really know what they encompass or how they work. The desired immediacy in interface-design makes the software that is behind it feel even more like an invincible force. It reacts to our behaviour, via minimal- or seemingly transparent input. Like a force of nature. In this project, I want to question the feeling of elusiveness regarding software. Why is it hard to gain access to levels of computation behind our interfaces and what impact does this have on our experience of computation? Why does the experience of immediacy feel like something natural while it is all but objective and neutral? Without the knowledge on the mediated and business-driven character of the software that defines our digital outputs, we could feel like it’s something that is outside of us as users. We could take the feeling of impotence for granted, without being aware of the designed artifact that is software. In this project, I will try to tell a visual story that feeds into the idea of software as a ‘force of nature’, something that is outside of our control. I want to show the absurdity of regarding anything digital-made as neutral and to emphasize the importance of awareness on the mediated and designed character of the tools we use. These are not ‘happening’ to us, but we as users have a say in them. After using and studying different types of software and interfaces and what is written about them in the field of digital humanities, I have chosen to focus on macOS as case study. Apple is known for its distinctive and 'natural' interface and even name their software after different natural phenomena as part of their 'look and feel'. To feed into this I will methaphorize Apple macOS software as an organism, a living 'thing' we cannot control. If the software is named after the Mojave desert then its functioning are the organisms living in the landscape, reacting to their senses and instinct. We have never been able to see the software-organism before for it always hides behind its smooth and falsely transparent interface.

 [1] Google Project Soli, "Soli", geraadpleegd op 3 mei 2019, https://atap.google.com/soli/.
 [2] Mark Weiser, “The Computer for the 21st Century,” Scientific American 265 nr. 3 (1991): 78.
 [3] Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), 24.                                                                                                                   [4] Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011), 17.

 

A design-led research approach

This research-project started with the self-imposed question on what exactly is a digital artifact. As a graphic designer, I have shifted towards a practice focussed completely on digital design with an experimental approach. I regard digital media as instruments to research different ways of image-making and experimenting. After defining that the digital artifact is always determined by the software used to make it and the interface in which it is made visible, I wanted to research further in what ways software influences the way we perceive- and experience the digital. I regard anything digital as material to experiment with and (re)use. Therefore, I wanted to study its properties better and reflect on the outcomes by making. In this process, I have made use of different kinds of software and interfaces to experiment with, from proprietary to Open Source, while at the same time reading texts by Friedrich Kittler, Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Wendy Chun and Marianne van den Boomen to name a few. Writing and making together form my working-process in which my practical experiments, often in the form of moving image, try to reflect on what I have read in relation to my own practice and the context I am trying to relate to. Some of the artists that are inspiring for their working method, combining research and practice, are for example Peter Weibel, Metahaven, Hito Steyerl, Alan Warburton and Sabrina Ratté. The images I make reflect my experience of the theory I have used and looked at. By making and reflecting I try to come up with a narrative to shed new light on the technologies we use daily. After researching different types of software and interfaces for this project, I decided to focus on Apple software which is currently the most popular by designers and which I have become acquainted with- and dependent on you could say, without knowing. 

Visual references: Peter Weibel, Lascaux, 1993 & PERSPECTIVE TORSI (SCREWED AND SEPARATED) OF SCULPTURAL IDENTITY, 1974. Metahaven, The Sprawl, 2015. Hito Steyerl, Liquidity Inc., 2014 & Factory of the Sun, 2015. Alan Warburton, Spectacle, Speculation, Spam, 2016. Sabrina Ratté, Bleu nuit, 2011 & Escales, 2015-16.

Apple macOS X and software as labour

In the first volume of Inside Macintosh, dating 1985, Apple guides the reader through the software and interface design of the Apple Macintosh 128K, 512K or XL. Responsiveness, permissiveness and consistency are explained as key aspects of Apple’s software design. In the first chapter under ‘Components of the Macintosh System’ we find the sentence: ‘Internally, applications and documents are both kept in files. However, the user never sees files as such, so they don’t really enter into the user interface.’[5] This confirms the idea of the user-interface as a 'shell' we interact with, but which does not give us any insights nor access to the working processes.

When Apple introduced its Aqua-themed GUI in 2000 as part of its macOS X software, the look and feel was supposed to be “liquid”, hence the name. Initially the design consisted of gel-like buttons and use of reflective effects to support the idea of translucency. With each OS X update the Aqua interface design updated as well, together with its API’s (Application Programming Interface). The Aqua GUI interface operates on top of- and together with the API software. The API’s make the functions and interactions with the system possible by widgets that are designed to respond to the user-input. For example, OS X Cocoa API gives its applications a look and feel that corresponds with the human interface design guidelines, so the end-user knows how to interact with the program.

We could regard the API as the layer on top of the application services like Quartz, which are then on top of the core services of the software, which are again divided in several layers of software. This complex system of interconnected layers of software is part of every computational device. As end-users, though, the only visible layer remains the one of the Graphical User Interface which tells us how to interact with our device. By using buttons, windows and icons to drag, click, safe and adjust files we feel like we are in control of our device, but these same controls also decide for us what we can do. With each OS X update, changes were made to its GUI. Both Apple and Windows, for example, started to focus more and more on the ‘flattening’ of their user-interface design. For Apple, this resulted in getting rid of most of the reflection-effects and suggested three-dimensional buttons. The shadows and gradients that were part of the initial Aqua interface, are now viewed as distracting within screens that are dense with information.[6] The flattening of the user-interface design shows all items in the same level of the Z-axis. This feeds into the idea of computation as ‘flat’. As a user, it seems like I am in control over my device, since we are seemingly communicating in a direct matter. We often forget about all the different layers of software that are behind the interface and which, each one of them, is designed by programmers working for different companies. In the chapter titled “Software as (forgotten) labor” Marianne van den Boomen, professor in New Media and Digital Culture, writes in Transcoding the Digital: How Metaphors Matter in New Media (2014):

“The limitations of user-control, sustained by an ideological inversion of the notion of transparency—in the GUI paradigm celebrated as hiding the process behind so-called transparent windows instead of revealing its language-like affordances—cannot be stressed enough. It once again shows that experiences of immediacy are by no means natural; they are generated by engineering, the hard work of humans and machines, and the subsequent obfuscation of this hard work.”[7]

In my opinion, this quote stresses the importance of an awareness of designed immediacy. The experience of it as something which is neutral, while this should be recognised as a false neutrality. The focus on flattening and “disappearing” in user-interface design, as for example seen in Google's Soli Project, results in a lack of knowledge on the processes and design of computation which involve humans and companies. Media theorist Friedrich Kittler elaborates on the invisibility and closed-off character of different layers of computation in There Is No Software (1995):

First, on an intentionally superficial level, perfect graphic user interfaces, since they dispense with writing itself, hide a whole machine from its users. Second, on the microscopic level of hardware, so-called protection software has been implemented in order to prevent “untrusted programs” or “untrusted users” from any access to the operating system’s kernel and input/output channels.[8]

I have tried to research the possibility of having an image- and understanding of the software-layer behind our interfaces. To do so, I tried working with open source software like FFMPEG and command-line interfaces. Using these different software-languages I tried to see whether I could make moving images by combining these into one. This resulted in a kind of glitch-videos which for me expressed the difficulty of diving deeper into levels of computation. These images didn’t really tell a story or had any kind of narrative. I got somewhat caught up in the technicalities of the different software programs I was trying to decipher, while never getting any access into the layer 'behind' the interface. This frustrated-, but also reminded me my focus should be on the experience of software instead of its technicalities.

 [5] Caroline Rose et al. (Apple Computer, Inc.), Inside Macintosh, Volume I (California: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Inc. 1985), I-30-33.                                                                                                                                              [6] Forbes, “Apple Is Embracing the Flat Design Trend - Are you,” geraadpleegd op 6 mei 2019, https://www.forbes.com/sites/allbusiness/2013/09/09/apple-is-embracing-the-flat-design-trend-are-you/#5bc24d3b3762.
 [7] Marianne van den Boomen, Transcoding the Digital: How Metaphors Matter in New Media (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2014), 137.
 [8] Friedrich Kittler, "There Is No Software", Literature, Media, Information Systems: Essays (1997), 151.

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Visual explanations of the architecture of macOS software and hardware. 

Experiments in image-making using different forms of software-interfaces. Showing the inability to get 'behind' the interface. 

Experiencing software

Now, why is knowledge on the complexity of software important? We have always shaped our tools in a way that they are used easily and efficiently. We do not need to understand exactly how they work to use them. A car engine is also ‘hidden’ underneath the hood and the dashboard interprets its workings, you could say. The difference here is that the design of our cars is not suggesting a transparency as computer user-interface design does. The importance here is in the suggested neutrality and objectiveness. When we give input to a piece of software and the output it gives is the only thing visible to us, we will perceive this as a natural reaction to our input. In the text "On Techno-Aesthetics" (1982), Gilbert Simondon, philosopher of technology, writes about the relationship between technology and aesthetics. Simondon writes about how the primary category of Techno-Aesthetics lies in the usage, the action. The pleasure in communication, mediated by the tool, with the thing on which the tool is working. The contact with matter or material that is being transformed through working with it.[9] We could therefore regard user-interface design as a form of Techno-Aesthetics. The pleasure in its design is in the easy communication with the software behind it and seemingly giving direct results from our working with our device. Though, what makes is different from Techno-Aesthetics as explained by Simondon is that user-interface design is not meant to be experienced as a tool at all. The desired experience is one in which we do not even recognize it as a ‘tool’, but we experience it as something close to a second nature. The mediated experience is designed to disappear, whereas when using a hammer, we do not forget about the hammer itself influencing the surface we are working on. The invisibility of the computation makes it seemingly lacking any matter or materiality. When the process is rendered invisible it feels like we become subject to a kind of sentient being, instead of something constructed and human-made. The machinery is designed to be forgotten, but still reacts to our input.

As users, we do not seem to have access to the ‘deeper’ levels of computation. The interface allows us to interact with the software that is behind, which transfers the information readable to the hardware. For these systems being based on calculated processes we often regard them as purely mathematical and systemic. Therefore, we do not always consider the human-made aspect of every programme and device we use. When speaking to Geert Mul, New Media artist, I asked him about his thoughts on the experience of digital media. He explained how he plays with the synthesis that is part of digital media in his work. The combination of the narrative and the experience of it. This made me think a lot about how to search for ways to experience software that is invincible to the eye. The invisibility of digital processes feeds into the mystification of it. It is something we don’t see, but which reacts to us and our environment. This results in a view of technology that is deterministic. Computation and the digital in this case feel like something that happens outside of us, like a force of nature.

Kevin Kelley frames technology in his What Technology Wants (2010) as a giant force which is “the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us.” Kelley calls it the “technium” which he explains as an ecology of technologies that need each other to operate as a sort of coexisting species, a “superorganism”.[10] Comparable with the philosophy of the Next Nature Network for example, which explains technology as having become so complex it has developed into an autonomous being that has co-evolved with us, having its own agenda.[11] This kind of view is part of the technological determinism that regards technology as something we as people, do not have a say in. I find this a dangerous stance, for it excludes us from being involved in decisions on the way we interact with- and use technology. It renders us insignificant by believing technology is “unstoppable” and doesn’t exactly encourage us in exploring its inner workings. It denies us the access to knowledge on the labour in software executed by people and driven by politics. But if indeed, technology and in this case digital computation, really feel like a greater force, an organism which impacts our lives, how can I use this as a reaction to the feeling of impotence?

 [9] Gilbert Simondon (translated by Arne de Boever), “On Techno-Aesthetics,” Parrhesia 14 (2012) 1-8.                                                                                                                                   [10] Kevin Kelley, What Technology Wants, (New York: Penguin, 2010), 11.                                                                                                                                                                 [11] Next Nature Network, "Next Nature Network Philosophy," geraadpleegd op 30 mei 2019, https://www.nextnature.net/philosophy/.

Answers to FAQ on the Next Nature Network website. https://www.nextnature.net/faq/.

Experiments in trying to stage my research into software as a 'natural phenomenon'. Mixing images from natural sciences with interface-features. These resulted in thinking about visualising software as a kind of organism, the natural 'thing' itself, instead of a scientific approach. https://suuspect.hotglue.me/?SOFTWARE+AS+MEDIUM.

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The Codex Seraphinianus (1981) served as inspiration for thinking about the unknown world of software-organisms and what this could look like. The Codex was created by designer Luigi Serafini and is an encyclopedia of an imaginary world. It features all kinds of fantastical creatures and imaginary languages. 

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Sketches in visualising interface-features as living organisms, behaving in an "uncontrolled" manner and evolving. 

The software-organism

As Taina Bucher writes in Objects of Intense Feeling: The Case of the Twitter API software studies have been successfully exploring its technical properties, but fewer studies have been paying attention to how people experience different characteristics of code.[12] Studying the technical properties of the different layers of computation and their relation to the “upper” layer of the user-interface, made me reflect on the experience as user of this flattening and disappearing of software. What struck me was the difficulty of trying to access the layer ‘behind’ the interface. When interacting with my MacBook Pro for example, via the terminal, I can write direct commands for it to execute. This might feel as being closer to the system, but these commands are just a different form of the interface. A text-based version instead of icons. Software is only visible to us by the metaphors and interfaces that are designed for it, but this feeling of not being able to grab something which is there made me reflect on ways of visualising this contradiction.

When computation really feels like ‘a force of nature’, the functioning layers of software are the living organisms which usually are not visible to the human-eye. A living 'thing' behind our user-interfaces that evokes the reaction we get when we press a button or open a tab. Reacting on their own instincts and needs, outside of our control. When I interact with the organism macOS by opening the Finder from my desktop, it is an all-knowing being that controls my files and keeps notion of where I keep them safe and that tracks them when they get lost. Apparently, behind the smiling face of my Finder there is a software-organism working to keep my files organised and accessible. Characteristics of the behaviour of such a living being would be to react intuitively, guided by its senses and to multiply and evolve. Unlike the image we have of anything computed, a living organism will act spontaneously to its sensibility. By animating macOS software and its interface, I will also animate the screen, for the screen is an interface as well. As Marianne van den Boomen recalls ‘the shining and blinding screen’: the metaphorical representations on our screen allow us to interact with our interfaces and use the device, but also distract us from the machinery itself. The machinery gets reduced to these same representations.[13] I spoke with Aymeric Mansoux, artist, researcher and course leader of XPUB at the Piet Zwart Institute, about the importance of considering software as shaping our digital media instead of being an objective tool. Together with providing useful information on the subject, he helped me think about how to dissect the layers of the interface into the software. We reflected on how a series of animations could strenghten the concept. 

 [12] Taina Bucher, “Objects of Intense Feeling: The Case of the Twitter API”, Computational Culture 3 (2013).                                                                                                                             [13] Marianne van den Boomen, Transcoding the Digital: How Metaphors Matter in New Media, 15.

Visual research into microbes and organism. How do they move, what do they look like, colors, textures etc. Video.

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Screenshot Apple Keynote on Designing Fluid Interfaces, 2018: https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2018/803/.

Sketches of the possible microbes living inside macOS, floating and jiggling. 

Using a tutorial video to transform software-fucntions into an uncontrollable being.

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Sketches of the Finder as two-faced Janus. Splitting in two-sides: the Finder we think we know, the one that makes sure we are in conrtol of our device and the Finder that is leading the organism in the back.

A new metaphor

-What do I want to do? I will metaphorize Apple's latest software-update, Mojave, as uncontrollable organism living behind its interface.

-Why am I doing this? By using the metaphor of software as organism I am feeding into a technological deterministic view on digital computation that, because of the invincibility of complex systems of software, often feels like a ‘force of nature’, something out of our own control. This viewpoint suggests neutrality and objectiveness of devices we use, forgetting about the human labour within- and the mediated character of every layer of computation.    

-How am I going to do this? By animating the usage of macOS latest software with its highly recognizable user-interface as a living organism that evolves in three stages. I will make use of the references to natural phenomena used by Apple as branding their distinctive 'look and feel' and develop this in three phases into an uncontrollable, living, software-system. Phase I will be the conception and emergence of the software, setting the landscape, its habitat in the Apple Keynote. Next will be the getting to know of the organism through a macOS Mojave tutorial video, explaining how to interact with it. In the last phase we have become completely dependent on the software that in the meantime has grown, multiplied and evolved. It often shows its true nature, but we don’t seem to recognize it, blinded by its “transparent” interface. The Finder as the two-faced Janus plays a central role. Literally two faced: suggesting we have control over our files and documents, preferences and other adjustments to the “system”, while hiding its true nature.

To consider macOS as a self-functioning organism, I tried to look at some of its default- and frequently used applications. The Finder is the entry into the only layer of macOS that we are allowed to access. It shows us all our files, launches applications and via Finder we can adjust preferences to customize our device. You could say Finder is the one in control and oversees the organism living behind our interface. Its smiling face, the ‘Happy Mac’ logo, isn’t split in two for no reason. The Finder really has a two-faced nature. It lets us believe we are in control, while behind the shiny interface it decides for us what our options are. To travel into the hidden world of the software-organism that is macOS Mojave, I need to guide through the ‘outer’-layer of the interface and into the ‘inner’-layer of the software. To do so, I will show the viewer three different phases of the life of Apple’s latest software-update. Each part is supposedly telling us all about the software update and its workings. Instead, each one is an explanation of new interface-features and remains superficial.

Screenrecording of studying macOS interface-features.

Stills from the three different videos chosen to work with. The Apple Mojave Keynote, the tutorial video on macOS Mojave and a Mojave-review video.

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 Phase I—The Introduction

In the first phase of the software-organism macOS Mojave we see its conception and the proud presentation of the new born. The Apple Keynote forms the basis of the first part of the animation. What we can see in the Keynote is the importance of the presentation of the software as something beautiful and natural. Slick and smooth images of shiny interface features framing a backdrop of the majestic Mojave Desert are overwhelmingly shown on a huge screen. Links to the natural metaphors used by Apple are stressed. The people in the room watching are seated lower, looking up to the great screen. What struck me the most is how many times Craig Federighi uses words like ‘so cool’, ‘it’s so nice’ and ‘looks so great’. The people watching the keynote don not seem to be interested in the inner workings of the software-update, for they clap most enthusiastically when Craig shows how to change the accent-colour in your interface. I wanted to use to create the first phase of the software organism, its emergence. In this first phase, we only see the interface-features that persuade us to use them.

Phase II—The Acquaintance

In the second phase, we are starting to learn to interact with the Mojave software via the online tutorial. When we were first just struck by its beauty, we now need to know how to use it. The voice of the tutorial tells us which buttons to click and where to drag and drop our files, making us think we are in control of our device. The Finder will show its two-faced nature to us, but will we even notice? The interface provides us with options to control- and interact with our device, but at the same time it is distracting us from the machinery behind.

Phase III—The Dependency

In the last and final phase the Mojave-organism has fully grown. By presenting itself to us via its perfectly designed interface in phase I and with the two-sided Finder making us believe we are the ones in control in phase II, we have become completely dependent on it. This is shown through the multitude of review-videos online explaining how beautiful and cool this next macOS software update is. There are even some features missing still, but thank god, Apple has promised to release a new update soon again. We will anticipate the newer organism to arrive, now Mojave is in our full control. Having us in this position, macOS is now able to do whatever wants. We feel like we are in control and its features have become a part of our daily lives. Even in so far that we don’t even think about it anymore while using it. The interaction with the software-organism has become like a second nature to us. No longer paying attention to its true character. Mojave has us hooked and blinded and is free to do as it pleases.

Researching the visualisation of what an organism living behin the interface could look like.

Stills from the videos of the three different phases; The Emergence, The Acquiantance and The Dependency in which the macOS Mojave-organism evolves.

Focus on what is said

After experimenting with ways of visualising how to turn macOS into a ‘living being’, I figured I was focussing too much on the imagery to relate to these kind of microbe-like forms and structures. When showing my work to Anja Groten, designer, researcher and tutor at Sandberg Institute, I got the feedback to be subtler in my imagery and to focus more on the use of language and play with this. I realised the language used to describe the experience of the software by different Apple users was a valuable finding on its own and I should stress this more. This resulted in a video that would be nice to look at, but did not really express my own research for it was too blunt. My focus within the research was on the experience of software and it is in the comments and language-use of the keynote, the tutorial and the reviews in which I found this expressed best. I started to focus more on what exactly is being said in these videos and what words are used to describe the interaction with the software. For example, in the Keynote Craig Federighi says things like: ‘after spending years at the ocean, we headed to the mountains’ which I can use to amplify the comparison with software as being a product of nature. Also, in the tutorial we can hear sentences like ‘when you are wondering, where does my stuff actually live in the computer? You can always get to it through Finder.’ Which adds well to the feeling of something living behind the interface and to the Finder as main app that is in control of this sentient being. So, for my next experiments which lead to the final video I used only the voices of the different videos and made new images according to these sentences. In a way, I am now letting these Apple users explain my research for me.

Storyboard revised video focussing more on the language used in the Keynote, tutorial and reviews and translating this to images.

Video stills from revised version.

Conclusion

By combining theoretical- and practical research methods, I try to reflect on the theory I have read by writing and making. Searching for the experience of what I have read by image-making. Often, the combination of image-making as a reflection on the theory I use, results in new findings. Therefore, the images I make are not just a description of what I have analysed, but should express an internalisation of the subject. By trying out new techniques of making by testing- and reflecting on various types of software and using different visual languages in my tests, I think I have managed to dissect a complicated subject into a video which is accessible and raises questions or give way to further research into the design of software and interfaces as mediated experiences.

As a digital designer, being conscious of the software I use and the way it shapes my outcomes is highly important. In our digitized world, I want to be critical and aware of how technology shapes our worldview and how we, as users, should be active players in its design. The suggested neutrality in the design of human-computer interaction can lead to a deterministic view on technology. Such a view regards technology and digital processes as something out of our own control, like a 'greater force' and renders us insignificant regarding decisions on how to interact with our devices. Throughout the course of this project, I have learned about the importance of being critical of how these ‘tools’ shape our digital environment. I want to make the viewer conscious of this mediated experience that is in control of bigger companies. This results in giving away agency and a limitation in the exploration of possibilities our digital world has to offer. To comment on this I have used a design-led research approach to construct a new narrative on technologies we use daily.

With the design of our user-interfaces as seemingly ‘natural’ and ‘transparent’, the process of computation becomes more hidden. When human-computer interaction is designed to feel as natural as possible, digital processes become something invisible to our eye, but affecting our daily lives. Anything digital-born is made up of interconnected, complex layers of software which define the way we see it and interact with it. As end-users, the only layer of software that is visible to us is that of the graphical user-interface. The user-interface makes us feel like we are in control of our device, by clicking, dragging and saving, while at the same time it is the design of the interface and software behind it that decides for us what we can do. We often forget about all the different layers of software designed by programmers working for different companies. It is the labour in software which is by no means neutral that we don’t recognize when something is designed to feel ‘natural’.

Reference list

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000.

Bucher, Taina. “Objects of Intense Feeling: The Case of the Twitter API.” Computational Culture 3 (2013).

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. Programmed Visions: Software and Memory. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.

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*Typeface of titles: Phase by Elias Hanzer