Paul Miller, in an article titled The Condescending UI, achieves the truly bizarre: user interface status seeking. What starts out as an defensible critique the slow evolution of user interfaces quickly turns into a solemn lament about what essentially amounts to Miller’s own loss of geek credibility.
BeOS is purely digital, with a sort of 8-bit charm, complete with pixel-perfect isometric icons. It’s much like the appeal of “retro” indie games, which deal in our native, shared gaming language and metaphors, not something borrowed from action movies or an overblown sense of virtual reality.
Miller points to BeOS as the counterpoint to the overblown UI metaphors of modern day operating systems. But it’s his comparison to retro gaming that gives him away as a status-seeking elitist. The appeal of retro gaming certainly is nostalgia but in this case, Miller isn’t describing the nostalgia for childhood memories of weekends spent playing MegaMan. He’s nostalgic about a time when games weren’t mainstream and the distinction granted from being known as a “gamer”. Now that games are more accessible and geared towards the interests of a huge and varied demographic, that distinctions has disappeared. Most everyone can and does play games. What retro indie games did was provide an avenue for games to be edgy again. They often require more technical proficiency to enjoy and are geared to the tastes of the few rather than the many. Indie games restore that long lost distinction.
Now Miller is trying to do the same with user interfaces. He’s tired of having his hand held by modern day operating systems.
A huge graphical icon representing an app might look incredible and enticing, but after a while it’s sort of oversharing. It’s constantly reintroducing itself, in case I didn’t catch its name the first time.
Miller hates that UI language speaks to everyone and for everyone. He may be disguising it as a critique of UI design, but he’s mad that computers have become geared towards the layman user. Finally, he offers up his temporary solution.
In my personal quest to escape the condescension, I recently switched my Windows 7 install over to the “Classic Theme,” which is basically Windows 95 incarnate, just with all the under-the-hood improvements I’ve come to rely on. I really like it. It feels right, and if it isn’t beautiful, at least it’s honest.
Putting aside all questions about exactly what constitutes an “honest” user interface, Miller’s best answer to the lack of evolution and digital authenticity in UI design is to return to something resembling a clunky, dysfunctional and abstracted artifact from the past nearly no one but the most technically savvy of users could enjoy navigating. In other words, he desires the same thing retro indie games did for gamers, namely, the restitution of the distinction that came with being someone who could make the best of a shitty computing experience.
A contrived and convoluted article about nothing more than cool-hunting. What’s not honest and authentic about that?