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What Web Applications can Learn from the Harpsichord


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Baroque harpsichordists excelled at taking simple melodies and creating elaborate, beautiful pieces of music. But in their desire to push the boundaries of experimentation, these keyboard virtuosi eventually ornamented the music beyond the limits of good taste, making the composer's original melody unrecognizable. Listen to enough Baroque music, and you'll ultimately decide, "This is ridiculous. I never want to hear another harpsichord!"

Something similar happens in Web design. With new technology comes a natural desire to experiment, challenging fundamental design rules to push the limits of web applications. As designers explore just how far they can go, there inevitably comes a breaking point, where you think, "This is ridiculous. I never want to see another rounded corner!"

In both cases, the lesson learned is that just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Web application interaction design brings a wealth of creative freedom and makes it increasingly important to identify the functional rationale for UI choices rather than gut reactions like "this is the way users are accustomed to it" or "this just looks better." Elaine discusses how to approach web application design when, instead of one dominant voice, there's a multitude of web product and design philosophies.

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What Web Applications can Learn from the Harpsichord

  1. 1. what can web applications learn from the harpsichord?
  2. 2. elaine wherry Co-founder, Meebo
  3. 3. classical music internet
  4. 4. today <ul><li>Classical music 101 </li></ul><ul><li>Why the baroque period relates to web applications today </li></ul><ul><li>Moving forward… </li></ul>
  5. 7. medieval 400-1400
  6. 8. medieval 400-1400
  7. 9. renaissance 1400-1600
  8. 10. renaissance 1400-1600
  9. 11. baroque period 1600-1750
  10. 12. baroque = “misshapen pearl” 1600-1750
  11. 15. “ Enough!” – Haydn
  12. 16. classical 1750-1820
  13. 17. romantic 1820-1910
  14. 18. <ul><li>Medieval </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Necessary technical development </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Renaissance </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Initial instruments and craftsman </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Baroque </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mass adoption and experimentation </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Classical </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Restraint and principles, craft to art </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Romanticism </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Artistic maturity, full expression </li></ul></ul>timeline
  15. 20. classical music internet
  16. 21. emerging technology / medieval 1940-1991
  17. 22. emerging technology / medieval 1940-1991
  18. 23. mass adoption / renaissance 1991-2005
  19. 24. mass adoption / renaissance 1991-2005
  20. 25. experimentation / baroque 2005-2010
  21. 31. baroque period is here <ul><li>Emphasis on doing as much as possible rather than trying to construct an underlying order </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The ultimate destination site that does everything </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Aggregators, API’s, open standards, widgets, frameworks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A misunderstanding of what the web does well – a collision of the data presentation (pages and links) with the data manipulation world (windows and folders) </li></ul></ul>
  22. 32. today
  23. 33. <ul><li>how “so-and-so” does it </li></ul><ul><li>more intuitive </li></ul><ul><li>more professional </li></ul><ul><li>techier </li></ul><ul><li>friendlier </li></ul><ul><li>good feng shui </li></ul><ul><li>aesthetically-pleasing </li></ul><ul><li>less noisy </li></ul>“ this design is…”
  24. 34. <ul><li>pro-round </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Smoother objects say hold me, sharp objects look dangerous </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>More congruous with our other technologies (cars, computers) that have become rounded </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It is more expensive, time-consuming, & difficult to produce rounded-corners, so it implies better more technical skill, better value, attention to detail, greater desirability. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>We’ve evolved to like curved things – we eat round fruit, we’re attracted to round body parts, we stay away from sharp things (teeth). Have women ever gone out of style? No! Rounded corners are here to stay! </li></ul></ul><ul><li>pro-square </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Simple and honest </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bracing and solid. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Shows technical-precision, advanced engineering. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Demonstrate an appreciation for creating a content, information-focused site; function over form. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Embraces what html/css already does well. Shows advanced understanding of how design and technology work together. </li></ul></ul>
  25. 35.
  26. 37. WWHD?
  27. 38. “ what are the true fundamentals of composition?” – Young Haydn
  28. 39. <ul><li>round </li></ul><ul><li>Rounded rectangles keep the eye focused in the center of the object instead of the corners, create stronger visual containers </li></ul><ul><li>Rounded rectangles typically require more whitespace in the design </li></ul><ul><li>square </li></ul><ul><li>Square page layouts and tabular data reinforce information hierarchy </li></ul><ul><li>Stacked rectangles make it hard to tell what’s inside and out </li></ul>WWHD?
  29. 40. <ul><li>Call to action & purpose </li></ul><ul><li>Strong defaults </li></ul><ul><li>80/20 rules </li></ul><ul><li>Designs targeted towards specific experiences are more successful </li></ul><ul><li>Can describe what it’s doing to your grandmother </li></ul><ul><li>Spatial chunking </li></ul><ul><li>Exposure likeness </li></ul><ul><li>Metaphor, mental model </li></ul><ul><li>Entry point </li></ul>Progression & Continuity Serialization of tasks Error tolerance Status messages Confirmation Eye dwells on busy areas, coast through free areas Animations and movement reflect good continuums Satisfaction & Confirmation Garbage in, garbage out Feedback Performance Consistency with expectations Universal Principles of Design Lidwell, Holden, Butler
  30. 41. a similar appearance suggests similar behavior Clickable! Clickable! Clickable! Clickable! Not clickable! Clickable!
  31. 42. a different appearance suggests different behavior <ul><li>Filter elements are white </li></ul><ul><li>Imdlg input element is blue </li></ul>
  32. 43. visual effects map to physical space stacked not stacked
  33. 44. “ wait a second…” – Young Haydn
  34. 46. haydn’s lessons <ul><li>To flout the rules, you must know the rules </li></ul><ul><li>Minimize ornamentation to maximize effect </li></ul><ul><li>… </li></ul><ul><li>… </li></ul>
  35. 50. to flout the rules, you must know the rules <ul><li>Objective principles help: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sharpen your sensitivity to emotional and physical responses </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facilitate good discourse </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Objective principles may not: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Account for emotional responses </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trump contextual issues </li></ul></ul><ul><li>You want to expect the unexpected </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Focus the design, only innovate where necessary </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>False recaps, phony endings, musical pranks </li></ul></ul>
  36. 51. haydn’s lessons <ul><li>To flout the rules, you must know the rules </li></ul><ul><li>Minimize ornamentation to maximize effect </li></ul><ul><li>Use design principles for internal iteration </li></ul><ul><li>Prototype in your medium </li></ul>
  37. 52. esterházy palace
  38. 53. unparalleled iteration
  39. 54. rapid iteration
  40. 55. lab testing
  41. 56. bucket testing
  42. 57. guerilla usability
  43. 59. rapid iteration
  44. 61. <ul><li>“I was cut off from the world. There was no one near to confuse or torment me, I was forced to become original.” </li></ul><ul><li>- Haydn </li></ul>
  45. 62. internal evaluation external validation
  46. 63. usability evaluations <ul><li>Users can: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Validate that our mental models are successful </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Participate in A/B test to optimize designs </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Users may not: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tell us why they think the way they do </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Create new designs </li></ul></ul><ul><li>We will be faster if: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>We can iterate within our own teams faster </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Use design principles to </li></ul></ul>
  47. 64. high-fidelity prototyping
  48. 65. high-fidelity prototyping
  49. 70. prototyping <ul><li>Native OS </li></ul><ul><li>Pixel-level </li></ul><ul><li>Reusable UI components </li></ul><ul><li>Closer to the native language </li></ul>
  50. 71. haydn’s lessons <ul><li>To flout the rules, you must know the rules </li></ul><ul><li>Minimize ornamentation to maximize effect </li></ul><ul><li>Use design principles for internal iteration </li></ul><ul><li>Prototype in your medium </li></ul>
  51. 72. influence
  52. 74. do larger organizations naturally benefit? <ul><li>Good usability = predictability </li></ul><ul><li>Most users prefer what they see the most, whether it’s good or bad </li></ul><ul><li>Do large organizations naturally benefit? </li></ul>
  53. 76. summary <ul><li>To flout the rules, you must know the rules </li></ul><ul><li>Minimize ornamentation to maximize effect </li></ul><ul><li>Use design principles for internal iteration </li></ul><ul><li>Prototype in your medium </li></ul>
  54. 78. Image credits <ul><li>Time travel clock: </li></ul><ul><li>Medieval Church: </li></ul><ul><li>Pantheon: </li></ul><ul><li>Flea: </li></ul><ul><li>Monte Python troubadoors: </li></ul><ul><li>Renaissance books: </li></ul><ul><li>Renaissance instruments: </li></ul><ul><li>Late Renaissance chamber group: </li></ul><ul><li>Bernini's Cornaro chapel </li></ul><ul><li>The Adoration of the Magi, a 1624 </li></ul><ul><li>Sint-Pieter-en-Pauluschurch </li></ul><ul><li>Vivaldi: </li></ul><ul><li>Bach: </li></ul><ul><li>Harpsichord: </li></ul><ul><li>Haydn - </li></ul><ul><li>Beethoven: </li></ul><ul><li>Mozart: </li></ul><ul><li>Erard piano: </li></ul><ul><li>Teletype (1945): </li></ul><ul><li>Apple (1975): </li></ul><ul><li>Apple II (1977): </li></ul><ul><li>Gopher Servers Menu: </li></ul><ul><li>arpa: </li></ul><ul><li>Laeken Church: </li></ul><ul><li>Yahoo 1994: </li></ul><ul><li>Wayback machine archive </li></ul><ul><li>iGoogle - </li></ul><ul><li>Rounded corners theme: </li></ul><ul><li>Young haydn: </li></ul><ul><li>Law site: </li></ul><ul><li>Esterhazy Palace: </li></ul><ul><li>Haydn’s Opera court: </li></ul><ul><li>Card sorting: </li></ul><ul><li>Audience Voting: </li></ul><ul><li>Haydn’s tomb: </li></ul>
  55. 79. thank you