In the second week of our class HDCC106, the students were reminded that their final project is both about process and creativity, about content and function, about beauty and ideas and all of the things that means when you are building an interface to, well, to what?

First we defined “interface.” What does that mean? For the first discussion, an “interface” was a space or point for communication between divisions. They were very keen on the idea that this concept meant an entrance into content. For the second class, I had to remind the students of the content. They were much more focused on the idea that the interface was how the users got to the functionality of the site. While the first group saw the interface as a way for humans to communicate with machines, the second group were more focused on the interface of different layers of the machine, that there are interfaces between input and output data on all layers. While the first group agreed that one student’s example of the interface as a magazine cover was a viable way of thinking about interfaces, the second group was not convinced. “Well then,” one student said, rolling her eyes, “that means anything could be an interface.” Well, yeah. Okay.

The conversation evolved into considering what is a “successful” anything-could-be-an-interface? This week our reading was based on Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s “‘So the Colors Cover the Wires’: Interface, Aesthetics, and Usability” in which he discusses interface, aesthetics, and usability (of all things). We grasped at a couple of things in particular: functionality versus content, notions of beauty and how these relate to usability, as well as pie-in-the-sky dreams about what you could make given the reins to make anything. The functionality versus content debate was not as divisive as I thought it would be: both groups saw “success” in an interface as the happy marriage between these two elements. For example, the first class thought that the main aspects of a successful or “beautiful” interface were

  • Function — practical, easy-to-use, intuitive navigation, efficient, organized
  • Content — interesting
  • Visual appeal — aesthetically pleasing

The second group broke it down a little differently:

  • Usable: intuitive, efficient, functioning (able to access content), organized
  • Visually appealing: clean, streamlined, consistency between elements

Finally, both groups saw the need to define the context (the audience and purpose of the interface) as a factor in defining “success” or beauty in the interface.

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