Interface Aesthetics: An Introduction

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Image from CMD SHIFT 3 .NET by Emilio Gomeriz

Everyday we use digital tools to create, edit, and document our work. We click fastidiously into the graphical user interface (GUI) of applications, seeing expected results while trying to ignore the friction of bad design, failed UX, and glitches. Most actions are conducted successfully and the interface holds its transparent position. But despite the GUI’s seemingly innocuous presence, its aesthetic leaches its way into our own. How we view our creative process and documentation is minutely and incrementally shifted by the frame of the interfaces we routinely use.

Douglas Engelbart's 1968 demo of NLS (online system)

The current paradigm of the user interface had its first introduction on December 9th in 1968 when Douglas Engelbart demoed his famous NLS (online system) at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in held at the Convention Center in San Francisco, CA. Engelbart and his team at Stanford had an innovative vision driven by desires to improve the ways people communicate and interact with each other and computers. It was the public debut of the mouse. The work produced by his group went on to inspire the most basic interactions used in Xerox’s Star graphical user interface and almost every operating system since...

 

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Revolutionary Convergences: History and Symbolism in Anonymous and OWS Art

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Left: United Nations Officials with an unofficial U.N. flag, 1947, Right: Anonymous members with flags in the UK from flickr, 2008

Anonymous operates under a well-designed logo. Does it belie their dispersed identity or siphon power from historical symbols to disrupt our own associations to them? The aesthetics of past revolutionary movements point more towards the second possibility. We see this link to history in the poster designs of Occupy Wall Street — new digital tools under visual constraints produce an early 20th century screen printer’s aesthetic with formal motifs of the same era.

New technology and historical technique are converging, and so are the symbols being used to deliver the message. The visual traces of current aesthetics draw on the deep roots of history and the powerful associations images and symbols therefore possess, allowing us to make quick associations to the power of the Roman Empire or the strength of the Greek Gods all in a glance at a tiny logo. Turning back to Anonymous —What can we learn by systematically decoding their symbolism? And how do their aesthetics relate to their actions as international and anonymous activists? 

Searching for these convergences online often reveals infinite Platonic shades of nearly identical images. But occasionally, if you sift past the first helping of results, you can uncover some remarkable connections.

Born in part from the image boards of 4chan, internet image culture was Anonymous’ early stock-in-trade. But above the rabble of trollish GIFs and dinosaur ASCI art they have developed themselves into a brand. Their logo, which dramatically leads many Anonymous affiliated YouTube videos, is wrapped in screen interference, reminiscent of military surveillance cam signals, and backed by equivalently dramatic classical sound clips. On the AnonOps blog the logo lives in static forms; black and white, ironically layered against a sea of 1s and 0s, and as the favicon...

 

 

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