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Virtual and physical - layers of reality

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In technology there is sort of a global aesthetic. And any time you talk about cities, you're necessarily talking about unique local experience. There are things that work in the context of Amsterdam that would be inappropriate in the context of New Amsterdam, of New York City. There are things that would work very, very well in coastal China, that would be regarded as just unthinkable... an insult to the landscape in Western Europe, maybe.
So, there will be as many different aesthetics of urban interface as there are urban places. And so, in this case the empathy required of the designers, the empathy of understanding how we produce something which is flexible and powerful enough to be a general solution and yet flexible enough that that local aesthetic and that local sense of the appropriate can be instantiated in the design of the interface that we offer.
Otherwise you get some very, very weird artefacts. You get... I mean, I... For example, in the current version of the Apple operating system, Lion, you get some very, very strange decisions that are made about what's called skeuomorphism, about the use of obsolete forms to represent contemporary technology. So, for example in the calendar, you'll get a graphic of literally like a leather bound desk calendar with torn off pages at the top. And the little, sort of, untrimmed bits of a perforated pad, you know, in your OS X application called Calendar. It's ostensibly and its only legitimate use is in helping people who have never before used a high technological artefact feel comfortable with and understand the power of a particular application.
In this case it's kind of bizarre to me, because after all, people have been using calendars on desktops and laptops for 15, 20 years now. And they seem to understand how to use them pretty well. They don't need their hand held in quite the way that the current Apple interface guidelines are suggesting.
So, if we're not even really able to recon with the present-day reality of this computationally powerful artefact and there are designed interfaces for it, I hesitate to suggest that we're quite mature enough to articulate globally appropriate urban interface guidelines. I'm just really, really afraid of what that looks like and that's why I'd prefer to see a thousand flowers bloom, and prefer to see a thousand different variations on these themes arise, even if it means tolerating some gosheries and some outright bad design decisions, because it means that the better decisions too will emerge. And hopefully, over time, will rise to the top. I think that's about as good as we can hope for in that regard.

Added on 13 Apr 2017

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