Media and Screens.
March 21st, 2008 by Lex

Having recently seen the Nokia “morph” concept (available here), the whole horizontal vs. vertical debate seems pretty outdated.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Now that many people have 24 inch screens, or at least wide-screen proportions on their machines, that thinking is far outdated.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.

On Weekends & Media.
February 23rd, 2008 by Lex

Weekends are reserved for creating, so it is likely that UA will take a break every Saturday and Sunday. Or perhaps it will just turn slightly more philosophical.

For example, the layout of this website and the photographs posted so far raises a natural question. Media that is read, such as pages of books, newspapers, magazines, and (unfortunately) websites, has a vertical proportion. Think of anything you may write on and its dimensions: vertical rectangle. The world of words is ruled by 8.5″ x 11″. Legal paper spills its content even further down. Go back in history and consider written scrolls, which are vertically unending. Language is vertical.

Visual content tends toward the horizontal. Television, the movie theater, your wide-screen monitor. All these tools are perpendicular to the written word. We instinctively expect the horizontal to be a “pausing” experience. One stops by a horizontal painting to quietly consider it, sits down to relax in front of a television or movie, or dives deep into family photos expecting to put in reflection and time.

Of course, certain visual media break this convention. Painting and photography are obvious examples, but the choice of vertical vs. horizontal seems to have a non-transparent effect. Vertical paintings may not seem as serene, or as demanding of attention. What do tall photographs do? On some level, they resemble a page in a book or a newspaper article more than a screen. So do they raise the same kind of response one gets from sitting down in front of a TV? Or are they more of a window and a mirror?

And then of course there is YouTube, which is doing an excellent job of destroying the “pausing” experience of horizontal media. The convergence of all these things on the web, and soon enough on all the screens we interact with, is transforming the proportions that signal to us how to consume content. No wonder the Iphone flip-flops between the vertical and horizontal.

Also, what about non-Western languages?