I had a younger (than me) person tell me the other day, “Sometimes I think adults just don’t get the Internet.” I smiled and responded “Well, that’s interesting because we created it. Oh, and you’re welcome.” I will admit that there are many awesome things that my generation will go down in history for creating (like all the really bad hairdos in the ‘80s) but our best and most meaningful contribution has clearly been the Internet.
Now let’s define what I mean by “we created the internet.” How did we create the Internet?
So, before the Internet, well… there was no Internet. There were other systems and methods in place that contained data that we sourced manually as we needed it. For a point of reference I will provide things such as card catalogs, encyclopedias, thesauruses, microfilm (you can find evidence of all these things in any of the legal or newspaper genre movies from the ‘80s). When we searched for information, we literally searched for information.
I mention these things because really the information we store and retrieve, and the way we use the Internet evolved from these kind of existing points of reference. This is essentially skeuomorphism. Skeuomorphs are used to make something new, look and feel comfortable and familiar. A good example of this would be an equalizer on your computer. To adjust the sound of your music, you open software and are provided with a screen version of what used to literally exist in hardware componentry. There are visual buttons and sliders to adjust levels because this is what you are used to seeing on a physical component. That interface is there, only to provide familiarity based on assumed previous experience with an equalizer.
We are now in a very interesting time, as we are evolving from skeumorphic (familiar-based, realistic user-interfaces) to flat design. Kaitlin Bolling wrote an excellent post explaining the difference between flat design vs. skeuomorphic design (click here to read it).
It is not only important to understand what these things are, but why things are evolving the way they are. Understanding the history of things is always important. I believe it will remain important to understand and mark this particular point in our digital media interface history. Changing over from skeuomorphic design to flat design means that we are moving into a generation that no longer needs many of these skeuomorphic points of reference to interact online. It means that we have suffered through a learning phase in society and can now better grasp the way we are communicating things on websites. We are now assuming that end users understand basic navigation and interaction.
These sorts of changes may affect the decisions you make about design and how you market to your audience. While a younger audience may be annoyed by overuse of buttons, a slightly older audience may still not understand where they are to click if it doesn’t look like a button. It is important to know who your audience is and how to best communicate with them during this user-interface transition period. In this example, you can see that it is not really a trend. It is a migration.
Younger people of course, consider these things to be a misunderstanding of technology, but they have never experienced the initial packet networking systems from the 1950s, stand-alone terminal-type computing or a giant 5½ inch floppy disk that contained the entire operating system, your software and your files. In fact, younger people may not have really experienced a migration in technology in their lifetime, but I’m sure that they will. While I don’t think that in this case not remembering the past condemns us to repeating it, know that there is great value in understanding the history and evolution of these things so we can define where we want to go.
There are many things to consider when you are deciding what and how to market to your audience. Make sure you are working with someone who understands the value of the past and who can help you carry your message to your target audience without simply following trend mindlessly. Know that at Haley Marketing Group, we are in a continual examination of the evolution of all media and can help you decide how to best communicate your message to your target audience.