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Chapter 50. Interfaces Diversified > Aesthetic Apprehension

Aesthetic Apprehension

Aesthetics are an important element of user interface design but should not hinder usability. I may customize the contents and position of a tool bar, but I don't want lace edges around messages. There is, I believe, a kind of beauty in simple practicality. Shaker furniture. Snap-On socket sets. Tools that work well, that truly fit the function and the hand of the user, are beautiful in themselves. We don't have to agree on all these matters as long as the aesthetics of software is under user control.

I spend a lot of my day facing a monitor. To me, the “wallpaper” on my desktop becomes a virtual window, like the cherished kitchen window over the sink that allows you to watch the garden while you wash the dishes. Sometimes my desktop window reveals a panorama of the cascades and cataracts of Waterfall City, as realized by artist James Gurney. Or it may look out on the robust but graceful arcs of Ron Walotsky's bridges and viaducts criss-crossing an imagined city. Sometimes the golden hues of an alien sun silhouette the elegant aerial arches of Jim Burns's Aristoi. Is this interface feminine? Typically male? American? European? Intellectual? Sensual? Who knows. You won't find it in any user interface guidebook. Although the styles of these artists, masters of modern fantastic realism, are all very different, there is a common aesthetic link: me. I'm the one who pulled these bitmaps together, so that I can gaze out over far vistas as I think about the next column.


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