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You just explained flat design to me in the most utterly convincing fashion. Seriously, The Penny Has Dropped.

What I can also see now is how utterly piss poor most if not all the current flat designs are at even beginning to approximate the effects that you are alluding to.

I totally buy your version of FD but I have yet to see it implemented. Do you have any examples perhaps?

I'm not sure I'm satisfied with this answer, but I think it indicates where I am headed.

At one end of human interface design, GNU Emacs. It is so flat as to allow [nearly] complete freedom of expression by the user. The price? The ability to deploy an ad hoc set of abstractions creates the possibility of multiple learning curves and requires a sophisticated mental model to be maintained by the user.

At the other end, maybe something like the sliding rheostat on my toaster. It controls one thing directly and proportionally. It persists across machine states [i.e. whenever I am using the toaster I have direct access] and is functional - a given setting produces the same output (in terms of energy, if not of toastiness.)

What isn't good flat design is Apple's new calculator - or rather it isn't good redesign despite being executed in a flat idiom. It removes functionality by eliminating mc m+ m- mr. The end result is that for aesthetic effect, Apple has made the calculator less useful. It has reduced the user's ability to express ideas.

They have used flat design as a cop out. I am sure that they have data which indicates that most iOS'ers don't even know what mr does, let alone uses it. But the real design question is, what would people use, and the answer is probably something like parenthesis and square root and maybe a doubling function and a halving function and something which multiplies by ten...and notice I've got five buttons that they need to stick in their four column design?

See, this is the problem with skeuomorphism. Apple still wants to make something that looks like a pocket calculator, instead of crating an interface to a general computing device.

What would a really useful phone calculator look like?

Javascript or scheme [but probably not Python because of its semantic reliance on whitespace]. It wouldn't be Babbage's calculating engine as implemented by IBM in the form of 1930's adding machine. It would look more like Emacs than my toaster.

I've been thinking that the real future is between, User Interface design and Human Interface design. Is the future of our interfaces going to allow expression or only interaction within a loop dictated by the machine? Keyboard Cat can be trained to flip switches, but cannot express a musical composition. I look at the Apple calculator and wonder, where is the Integral key?

Your comments remind me a bit of the interface for the Canon Cat designed by Jeff Raskin. You may be familiar with his classic book...


Few know what "mc m+ m- mr" do. Hopefully now we can make a better calculator interface or at least some tooltips.

You're prescribing the functional equivalent of skeuomorphism: over-functionality vs over-design.

In iOS 6, turning the calculator sideways reveals more buttons. It might be the same in iOS 7.

You might want to check out the essay "Magic Ink" by Bret Victor [1] which explains what the parent comment is alluding to.

I do think that he's describing something orthogonal to Flat design though, since you can do the same with skeuomorphic design.

[1] http://worrydream.com/MagicInk/

Thanks for the link. I'm sure I've never seen it, but perhaps I am expressing the same zeitgeist.

The quote I was thinking of is:

"Re graphics: A picture is worth 10K words - but only those to describe the picture. Hardly any sets of 10K words can be adequately described with pictures."

  -- Alan J. Perlis, Epigram 39*

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