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L2. Contemporary Application Aesthetics The stylistic aspects of conventional onscreen interaction and visual design have changed over time and will continue to do so. Product teams can promote learnability, as well as attributions of product quality and utility, by envisioning usages of contemporary user interface aesthetics in their application concepts. Examples from three knowledge work domains: An architect recognizes many of the user interface conventions of current architectural software in her new building modeling application. Although the new tool is substantially different, it has elements that somehow look similar to the latest versions of other tools she has used, and she feels that these stylistic cues help her to “know where to go” (see illustration). A financial trader recalls how his firm’s trading application has gone through several different user interfaces over the years, with each iteration reflecting visual “best practices” of the times. He is somewhat of a gadget connoisseur, and he likes using tools that feel up to date.


What current and emerging trends in user interface aesthetics could be relevant for your team’s targeted markets and the work practices that you are striving to mediate? How might your team distill selected contemporary interaction and visual design directions into stylistic conventions that could be applied across your application concepts?

In our building modeling applicaon, I see visual similaries with the best architectural tools. It’s like I can somehow read the appearance of the product based on what I already know...

More specific questions for product teams to consider while envisioning applications for knowledge work: What do targeted individuals think about the aesthetics of the onscreen tools that they currently use?


What contemporary design standards are they familiar with in the context of their day to day work? In their use of personal technology, outside of their working lives? What larger stylistic trends in application design might your team map and make predictions around?


What types of emotional connections between user and brand are central to your design strategy and application concepts?

A scientist is used to working with applications that do not look very current, even when they are newly released. Her new analysis application is an exception, and she is surprised by how much she enjoys its emphasis on modern “look and feel.”

Which contemporary aesthetic approaches in interaction and visual design could promote these types of connections and attributions?

Contemporary design standards for computing tools are, at least in some part, a moving target. While certain foundational interactivity conventions of graphical user interfaces appear to be here to stay, a variety of stylistic variations on those conventions are continually emerging in new products, both within interactive computing at large and within a breadth specialized domains (C2, C3, D7, F2). Applications are also increasingly subject to purely graphic trends, and users’ judgments of a product’s visual design currency may drift to reflect contemporary styles (L).

Which contemporary approaches might targeted knowledge workers perceive as being appropriate and appealing for their own day to day visual environments? How might they identify with certain aesthetic directions in the context of their working lives?

While enduring tools for work should probably not become purely fashion artifacts, not all interface standards remain contemporary, and dated conventions can disrupt a product’s design vocabulary. By explicitly mapping current and emerging application design trends, product teams can select contemporary approaches and standards that suit the activities that they are striving to mediate and generally match targeted workers’ preferences (A).

How might certain interactions with relatively “known” onscreen aesthetics promote emotional responses that are conducive to attentive, focused thinking?

Which approaches might be too unproven, inefficient, or edgy for your application concepts, given that your team is striving to create a highly functional tool for thinking work?

How might your team’s choices about contemporary interaction and visual design aesthetics play out across your sketched application frameworks, information representations, and functionality concepts? Do you have enough information to usefully answer these and other envisioning questions? What additional research, problem space models, and design concepting could valuably inform your team’s application envisioning efforts?

When product teams do not actively consider how they might reuse contemporary user interface standards, opportunities to appropriate established interaction styling and visual languages (F10) in a consistent manner can be lost. Workers may perceive resulting tools as being less relevant or industry leading (K12), which — depending on a product’s competitive environment and its other sources of proposed value — may lead to negative overall halo effects. Conversely, envisioning interfaces from a narrow perspective of current, “permissible” standards can exclude more learnable (K2, K6) and otherwise optimal (D2, D3, D4) interface conventions. It may also detract from lines of design thinking that can result in more compelling, iconoclastic designs (L5). See also: A, A4, C8, F, J6, K1, M



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