I’ve been thinking on interfaces in a graphical way. Not as graphic interfaces, but trying to depict on an image the overall concept of interface. This began with me trying to articulate graphically the paradox of transparent interfaces on black box technology. And all this came along as a way to think about those and other concepts. Let me show it.
It is said (accurately, I guess) that the technology and the devices we use everyday are a black box, because they prevent us looking inside. I pictured it like a matt/light-swallowing/black-hole-like box (1), given that besides being black and not allowing looking inside of it, it also doesn’t give us a minimum clue about itself.
But, the interfaces we use to interact with those black box technologies are supposedly (or mean to be, but fail) transparent. So, how would it be a transparent wannabe surface on a black box? The most close thing that I can think about is a mirror. A mirror not only hides what is behind, but deceives us showing a virtual space beyond its surface. And, of course, it gives us back a reflection of ourselves, and I think this is something the technological interfaces do somehow. Then, could we depict this technological box as a mirror wrapped black box? (2)
Maybe the said transparency works in a more sophisticated way. Maybe it’s another kind of optical trick. In fact, the transparency doesn’t intend only to fool us about the presence of the technology and interfaces, but also attempt to make them disappear. So it doesn’t interfere between us and what we aim to do with them. Would it be more like an invisibility cloak from Harry Potter? (there we go with the magic metaphor), or an hyper-sophisticated stealth technology? (3)
But this stealth device it’s more an industry’s unreachable dream than something real. There are always problematic approaches and usages that solidifies these devices, something like a glass coffee table that you don’t see, but hurts when you hit it with your knee.
Maybe, a more accurate portrait would be a black box with one of its faces working on this transparent-magic-stealth mode (4A). Also, the only way this total stealth mode would work is blocking the rest of the reality. Blocking the relation of the device with the environment and context, and avoiding a change of perspective on such device. But, the stealth mode is not anymore stealth if it has no background to merge with (4B).
Again, maybe the black box metaphor works in some way because the devices certainly prevent us to look inside. But, those pictures of people in darkness reading on their devices with their faces illuminated come to my mind, and maybe, those boxes are not avoiding that we look inside them because they are pitch black, but because they dazzle us with their bright light. They don’t do it only on a literal way, but also on a figurative one, with their capabilities and, again, magic. So, would it be an accurate portrait of our abstract interface concept a glowing, lighting, dazzling box? (5)
Someone said (it was me feeling poetic) that even if the digital interfaces emit light, they are so dark that they work better in darkness, and any rise of exterior light kills them little by little. Again, both literal and figuratively. This also reminds me the above rest-of-reality-blocking box, perhaps, that is what they try to do with their light: block the rest of the reality.
But you could argue that although the interfaces try to be transparent, they let us notice part of the system they relate us to. Then, taking the idea of those mirrored glasses that allow looking one way but barely on the other, how could be a mirrored box that allow us to see partially the core of the system? (6)
However, we could say that the interfaces not only let us sense what is inside, but also take little pieces of it out of the box, so we could interact with them. Also, I guess that the core of a technological system is better depicted as something complex and multiform. So, there we have a black box barely allowing us to look inside the system and surfacing pieces of its complex core (7).
In addition, I would like to try a couple of combinations. First, this complex surfacing stuff with a completely reflecting mirror surface (8A). I like how the mirrors reflect the outstanding pieces and make a somehow perverse or wicked trick. They double the pieces on themselves and make them look like independent elements on the surface, but they are not. This wasn’t intended, but I think that represents quite well some features of the interfaces that we handle everyday.
Second, I wanted to mix those arising pieces with the black-hole-like box (8B). I don’t know if this is the most precise portrait, but it truly gives me some real interface vibes. With this matte looking void-like surface, sparkled with those shards resembling iceberg tips that hides a whole big system, looks like a digital interface to me.
As I said, this was me trying to use graphical representation to ease some of my mental threads. I also hoped that some new ideas will emerge from those images or, at least, some old ones re-emerge. I don’t know if I’ll continue creating more of those images, but enough for the moment. I hope that this helps someone thinking on digital interfaces or to explain to some other people about them.
To say goodbye, here we have our beloved interfaced box as its mirrored alter ego in its native environment, some short of cyberspace of the ideas, I guess.