Interface Aesthetics

Below is an excerpt from Kei’s senior thesis entitled “Interface Aesthetics: Practice in the Expanded Field of Design.”

One may look to more recent work as an extension of the tradition. The Web site of Jim Punk, an anonymous artist, opens to a text-drawn computer frame, and hovering over the keys changes the computer’s “screen,” inviting users to navigate further to seemingly discrete examples of his portfolio.

Yet “there are no direct title links,” as Louis Dulas writes in an editorial for Rhizome,

or any kind of straightforward archive list of projects, instead it’s these arranged letters and symbols that when painstakingly, individually clicked on, lead the viewer down into a further maze […] [The] non-linear, schizophrenic performance draws attention to the form language and communication take, all the while disrupting standardized information flow and producing an irregularity in the way we expect to approach and access content.12

The site leads to a frenzied and often alarming display of projects, such as the page below which constantly reads out text of “bomb” and “kill” commands.

Yet Punk tempers such works with the page below, the title bar reading “just one Untitled Document•—>,” which seemingly benignly draws pink squares left in a trail by the visitor’s mouse coordinates.

The “schizophrenic” and “disruptive” nature of Punk’s site compels the visitor to click with conscious intention, though surrendering to the artist’s chosen system of interlinking. Thus Punk’s work forces the visitor into an exploratory interaction, with her initially unaware of the content each mouse click will bring, whether it may be a torrent of pop-up windows or a calm set of links to another artist’s site. Yet the perhaps compulsorily exploratory quality of Punk’s site may not fulfill the last tenet of explorable systems Norman cites, that actions be without cost. In learning the rules and language of the interface, the visitor is faced with a certain awareness of risks, otherwise minimized on most popular and thereby authentic, rather than spam or virus, Web sites. For when one deletes the pound symbol from the end of the “home” page’s url, www.jimpunk.com/#, the screen becomes black for a moment, long enough to cause the concerned visitor panic, until the fullscreen menu for film editing software appears. Despite the humor of this example, the awareness of risks – real, imagined or invisible – to one’s machine and data becomes a certain palpable anxiety in much net art, at least when one is unfamiliar with the work. Still, Punk’s site does function as a wide structure that begs exploration, with the computer keys displayed on the homepage suggesting a various range of navigational options with only minimal visual cues as to the nature of their path. Once one trajectory is chosen, the visitor’s input, such as mouse position, browser window, and, in fact, entire machine become malleable, generative tools. Whereas standardized Web design posits the goal of a site as the extraction of information, the goal of Punk’s site – as a site that utilizes and exploits its format as an interface – becomes oriented toward its explorable, experiential character; for the opening text-computer navigational system can be easily, for the most part, returned to through the browser’s back button. The site houses many projects, but in their amalgamation, becomes a multilayered project itself, rather than a lucid or explicit gallery of discrete pieces. The site self-consciously recognizes, as stated in the opening quotation by Drucker, an interface as the “critical zone that constitutes a user experience.”

With institutional or Web sites, perhaps users have come to desire the traditional navigational menu, preferring a narrow or shallow structure in order to access information with speed. While Punk’s site design may be easily explained by the fact that its artistic content is the interface and browser itself, it may be that it is merely this self-conscious intention that allows such design to be realized. Yet in several fields, most notably that of architecture, many firms are coming to experiment with the dynamic and experiential qualities of Internet interfaces. One such firm based in New York, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, presents on their Web site an array of images from their latest projects.

via http://www.ourmachine.net/?p=62

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