Media and Screens.

Having recently seen the Nokia “morph” concept (available here), the whole horizontal vs. vertical debate seems pretty outdated. In the more immediate future, it is likely that we will be bridging the gap between the Iphone and the laptop, with a series of devices that have unconventional resolutions. This will pose substantial challenges to graphic designers, but is also a moment of opportunity.

Back around 2002, the common wisdom was that you should design for an 800px by 600px screen. This led to the creation of many fixed-width, narrow websites, reminiscent of newspaper columns. Now that many people have 24 inch screens, or at least wide-screen proportions on their machines, that thinking is far outdated. Designers must accommodate flexible website proportions, changing resolutions, and even orientation flips (again, the Iphone).

CSS has done a great job of making HMTL much more flexible. Instead of constructing a website like a Microsoft Word document, we can now “tag” various pieces of content within the website and define its aesthetic qualities. We can imagine a future where different CSS configurations get triggered depending on what device is accessing them. If your future-toaster wants to pull up a 750px by 2500px image, no problem! Just load the CSS-toaster style sheet.

The long term is even more fantastical. If the physical medium actually changes, the digital content also has to move around, resize and re-conceptualize itself. That’s why the Nokia Morph piece is so compelling–it’s a real change in how people think about visual content, and how stable that content is. What would the Mona Lisa look like if you took the frame and bent it into the shape of a watch? Cubists and other abstract artists would probably fare much better in that example.

Update (May 05, 2008):
Lightspeed VP brings up this point in relation to data transfer and processing power. The richness and processing demand of web-based applications does not play very well with the emergence of computer-like handheld devices.

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