On User Interface Chrome

While watching Microsoft’s overview of Metro, its new user interface paradigm, it struck me as somewhat odd how much emphasis was placed on the removal and abstraction of user interface chrome.

Though we act directly on many objects in our day to day existence, many of those objects are themselves tools for acting on other objects. We are, in fact, completely surrounded by object interface chrome.

We don’t carry water around in our hands, we carry it in a some sort of cup. The cup is a tool we use to more effectively carry, store, and drink water. Our food is cultivated, transported, prepared, and eaten with tools.

History was not “recorded” until we imprinted it on rock, clay, and paper — using tools. Most great works of art are created with brushes, chisels, and other tools — music with drumsticks, guitar picks, and piano keys.

The iPhone, iPad, and other touchscreen devices are the meta-tools that enable the primary tools of computing — apps. And apps themselves are a collection of software tools that ultimately become, as Steve Jobs said, “a bicycle for our minds”. Tools to enhance and enable our cognitive endeavors.

Apps completely take over the touchscreen experience. The device becomes a book, a calculator, a map, a stopwatch, a sketchpad, and even a musical instrument. We shouldn’t view apps and the devices they run on merely as portals to content, but as tools for learning, sharing, and creating.

To that end, the ultimate goal of user interface design isn’t to minimize chrome, the goal is to build the right tool for the right job.

  1. drbarnard posted this