Digital Native

Digitally native is a lie. There. I said it. It is a phrase that has been thrown around in the skeuomorph vs modernist fight in interface design. These two positions are currently seen to be represented by Apple, with its leather stitching, and Microsoft, with its typographic layouts. I am not saying that these two things are not different in important ways, but I am saying that there is no such thing as digitally native. I’m going to start off with a little demonstration of how to create a Metro-style tile and an iOS icon in CSS. I will include the code below each so we can compare them

#metro {
    width: 280px;
    height: 140px;
    background-image: url(logo.svg), linear-gradient(left , rgb(77,168,70) 0%, rgb(13,112,4) 100%);
    background-position: center center, center center;
    background-size: 100px auto, auto auto;
    background-repeat: no-repeat, no-repeat;
    display: block;
}
#ios {
    width: 180px;
    height: 180px;
    display: block;
    border-radius: 30px;
    background-image: url(logo.svg), url(background.png);
    background-position: center center, center center;
    background-size: 100px auto, 180px auto;
    background-repeat: no-repeat, no-repeat;
    box-shadow: 0px 3px 10px rgba(0,0,0,.75);
}

Do you see a big difference in how the browser creates these day vastly different design styles? I don’t. Metro isn’t digitally native any more than iOS or OS X. Nothing is digitally native. It’s all conceit, placed there for the user’s benefit. The only thing native to digital is 1s and 0s. Everything else is layered on top through brute force. Each layer up is more abstract and elegant, but underneath it all is a tangle of technological sediment. Those espousing typographic grid layouts as the way forward for interaction would be better served by identifying themselves with the design principles that these ideas come from. People like Joseph Müller-Brockmann, Jan Tschichold and the international, or Swiss, style are where these ideas come from. Modernist design is a fine place to plant a flag but it is no more digitally native than the worst skeuomorphic atrocity you can find. If anything it is less so. I do not know of previous design movements that tried to slavishly recreate physical objects in an abstract medium the way that has been done with the desktop metaphor in software. Nothing is digitally native. Creating software is like living in a foreign country. It is hard and some may do it well, but not everyone will do it the same. But one thing’s for sure, none of us were born there. There are no digital natives… yet.

We can argue about which design language is more effective or tasteful, but let’s not muddy the waters with the argument that either is more native to the digital environment.