A few months ago I went to a local IxDA/AIGA event, sponsored largely by Microsoft, where several speakers from the local interactive community discussed the current state of interface design. The speakers from the Microsoft phone division coined a phrase, IxDA Bauhaus, to frame their discussion.
The IxDA Bauhaus, according the speakers is a return to content first interactive design, taking influence from print design. The first speaker, Mike Kruzeniski from the Windows Phone team, gave a visual history of the computer interface, harkening all the way back to Vannavar Bush and Douglas Engelbart. A similar visual history can be found in a presentation that John Gruber gave at Webstock. His main point was that the thrust of interface innovation has centered around physical metaphors that orient the user to their options, i.e. stylized filing folders to represent directories and trash bins to represent file deletion. This protracted trend has ultimately lead to the unfortunate skeumorphs that we’ve seen over the last few years, we’re looking at you iCal and Address Book. When portrayed against this glitzy visual excess, Windows Phone 7 seems like a breath of fresh air. Mike portrayed Microsoft’s focus on content first and flat color fields as the answer to the fake leather stitching and perfectly dithered gradients. Beyond that, he claimed that Windows Phone 7 was an example of a new movement, rooted in historical precedent, the IxDA Bauhaus.
I was with the presenter all the way, until the last point. I love a history lesson and his feelings about skeumorphism resemble my own. I happen to really like the Windows Phone 7 interface and think that it is the perfect answer to Apple’s dimensionalized realism. Although, Microsoft has had their own travesties in the past, Bob anyone? I believe the fact that Microsoft has a point of view with their design will help visually differentiate them in the marketplace, unlike Android’s heavily borrowed interface ideas. I really respect Microsoft for having an opinion, one that will soon spread to the next version of Windows, albeit in half measures. The thing that was hard to take seriously, and that the rest of the speakers continued pitching, is the artificial creation of a movement to justify their opinion.
Much of what I understand about the original Bauhuas is with the benefit of hindsight. It seems as though rather than waiting for designers to naturally gather around good ideas and perpetuate them in their own work the presenters would like to instigate it. I would love to see these design ideas take off and influence the marketplace. It would be really nice to see more iOS apps take a gestural approach to navigation rather than the more typical drill down. I would also love Apple to realize that not all users need page turning to believe they’re reading a book. All I’m saying is: You don’t have to sell us a good idea Microsoft, we’ll take it for free.