Tag Archives: design

Paradigm shift from functions to aesthetics, and next?

The idea of paradigm shift was introduced to me in secondary school English lessons. We talked about how a particular sector changed dramatically in a period of time. This pattern is actually observable in the technology industry.

In the IT world, we had a paradigm shift from functions to aesthetics.

Past: From nothing to functions

In the earlier 2000s, when we first experience the power of IT on Windows 98, people were fascinated by the fact that the computers and other devices can do so many things. We replaced writing with typing, mails with emails, and we celebrated the whole range of functions that IT has brought to us. That was the paradigm shift from nothing to functions. Everyone was new to these functions and we were more than happy to have them.

Recent: From functions to aesthetics

Then we experienced time. In late 2000s and early 2010s, people got used to these functions, especially the younger generations who grew up with these functions. They did not experience the change in their lives, because emails and word processing “were already there” for them. Also, the new functions were developed but they were nothing compared to the breakthroughs during the first paradigm shift. All of these meant that there was nothing for younger generations to be excited about.

This prompted them to look for something beyond the functionalities. And surely enough, similar to any other industries, aesthetics became the focus. Therefore, we saw many software focusing on designing nice user interface and improving the user experience. These “aesthetically appealing” software quickly won over the market, despite the fact that they may be lacking in terms of functionalities.

Future: From aesthetics to …?

We come to the reality now, as of 26 March 2015, it has become the default standard to have an “aesthetically appealing” software. Otherwise, no matter how good the functions are, customers will not buy them. However, this also the period of time where customers are “expecting” aesthetics as a norm from the IT industry. If we apply the similar argument above, this could be the time where we have the chance to experience our own paradigm shift, away from aesthetics.

But what could be replacement? Are there any precedents from other industries? Real estates, pharmaceutical, automobile… all the other industries are either improving on the functions and or the aesthetics. Maybe the answer is combing the functions with aesthetics. This seems to be trend now in the watch industries where the traditional “aesthetics-focused” companies are pairing up with smart watch companies. But do we stop here? Are functions and aesthetics the ultimate goals that we want to achieve? We are nearing the time where we can get one without compromising the other, so what happens after?

The best Friday Hacks session so far

Today I attended the Friday Hacks(#68) by NUS Hackers as usual. I knew that the topic today is on NUSMods, a web app developed by a SoC senior – Beng, that is extremely popular and successful in NUS, and there will be a guest Jeff Moss who is a famous security expert. It turned out both talks were interesting and meaningful.

For the first part, Beng mainly talked about the history and design philosophy of the NUSMods. It was an inspiring story considering that he did this in year 2 and the web app went through a lot of changes before it finally become successful and popular among NUS students. In particular, the part on designing the app is interesting, he talked about “hackers who can design the app well enough is as rare as unicorn.” And I found this to be relevant. Sometimes the app may have the best functionality but the poor design may not attract the users or simply render the app unusable. Luckily, there are some books on design philosophies that are useful in designing apps. I figure that I should take a look at them when I have free time and before doing some serious web project. He also mentioned about the future of NUSMods which includes some APIs for new developers to use the data from NUSMods as well as using NUSMods’ existing popularity to transform it into a platform for displaying other apps relevant to NUS(taking the interpretation of NUSMods as NUS Modifications). These ideas may be relevant for me when I do my future projects.

The second part of the session was a short Q&A session for Jeff Moss and some of his colleagues. A lot of insightful questions ranging from personal security, NSA’s surveillance, issue of trust and prospect of computer security were asked and the reply given by the pros were very informative and insightful. We learnt about how strange phenomenons may be related to NSA’s surveillance programmes, the prospect of post Edward Snowden era for computer security. Some even drilled into the fundamental issue of the extent of trust we should give to others. A good point is that in IT industry, we have to ultimately give our trust to some strangers. It is not possible for us to build a functional computer, or in similar sense a full range of software. Hence, whatever we do, we need to trust the other people who developed the building blocks for the technology that we are using, be it the operating system or the processor.