It’s not often that Star Trek accurately forecasts the shape of technology thirty years down the line. Warp speed and teleportation, for example, remain distinctly in the fiction half of the sci-fi equation.
And yet, it ocurred to me today that there is one thing Star Trek’s designers seem to have nailed – the advent of the touchscreen (not that hard to predict) and the aesthetics of the user interfaces which will accompany them (which is quite a bit more impressive).
In other words, Star Trek correctly identified the advent of what I will call ’Platelets’. Here’s what I mean by this term…
There was a time when the physical aspect of computer user interfacing comprised entirely of ‘analogue’ buttons. We bashed keyboards and clicked our mice and, at this level, it was all quite similar to the buttons that we found on our ‘clicky’ pens or even our clothes and handbags.
And, unsurprisingly, on-screen designers – whether those making websites, computer games, operating systems, and everything in between – took their cue from this fact.
Hence it was logical that the Windows ‘start’ button (later the ‘start orb’) should resemble a button with a physical element – it had some element of depth and texture, and its operation on-screen reflected the corresponding off-screen action.
When you press the mouse button with your finger, you feel and hear a click, as well as seeing a ‘movement’ of the start orb (in my version the ‘depression effect’ of the button is achieved with the shading of the windows logo which alters when clicked).
And now? What happens when you click the Windows start button now?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing happens - because there’s no start button to click any more. In fact virtual buttons are generally on the way out (yes, that’s my web 2.0 fashion verdict). So what’s the next hot thing on the virtual catwalks for user interfacing? Platelets, that’s what.
Now, design experts might well have a better word to describe the aesthetic I’m referring to here – but, until someone helps me out with this, I’m going to press on with my little neologism for now.
Platelets are what happens when buttons no longer have an analogue component. We are now fast approaching the phase wherein most technology that doesn’t already feature a touchscreen will do soon. So not only smartphones and tablets, but also everything from washing machines to cash machines; from cars to elevators.
And in the age of the touchscreen, the physical sensations of user interfacing are vastly different to those when we used analogue buttons (like mice and keyboards) for navigating virtual spaces.
Contact is now softer and lighter than before – sometimes even non-existent in the case of motion based interfaces. The design of virtual interfaces has responded to this fact and we now see that the most common characteristics of touchscreen interfaces is their ‘thinness’ – they ‘feel’ light as we swoosh left and right through our iPhone menus or tap (not bash) out a text message.
And this is what the Platelet (derived from ‘plate-let’ just like ‘droplet’ is a lighter version of a ‘drop’) refers to: a characteristic of modern computer interface design (including websites, apps, and operating systems) which resembles a thin and light surface. Whether you see it in the album view of Apple’s iTunes or Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS design – thanks to the way that touchscreens have altered the physical sensations of computing, the Platelet is no longer only known to Trekkies but has become a common interface aesthetic of anything with a CPU…