I love debating the appropriate use of minimalism, exploring ways to make user interfaces simple without regressing to simplistic, and working within the constraints of the medium. But trying to approach design with “digital authenticity” is the furthest thing from my mind.
There is nothing inherently authentic about anything created digitally. There’s nothing genuine about 0’s and 1’s and any particular sequence that describes pixels on a screen. Humans created the hardware and software that sequence those bits, and unless we’re talking about some sort of futuristic research project, everything created digitally is created for some ultimate form of human consumption. Whether the output is high art or a calculator app, the point is human involvement — both in the creation and in the appreciation of the created. Even algorithms designed to create things autonomously were created by humans with the output intended to involve humans at some level.
And in user interface design, leaving humans out of the equation — or minimizing their importance — leads to poor choices. There’s a reason Apple uses “Human Interface Guidelines” to describe their most important design resource. If anything, we should strive to design with human authenticity in mind.
The use of realistic textures and real world metaphors was not done — at least at a higher level — merely because we could, but because those designs were ultimately more relatable to humans. Though obviously overused in many cases, there are concrete usability improvements in relating interfaces to the physical world. As we make an aesthetic shift away from texture heavy interfaces, it’s more important than ever to keep humans at the center of design. I see too many designers unwittingly throwing the baby out with the bathwater and telling others to do the same.
Many have touted iOS 7 as Apple’s break from skeuomorphism, and that’s true if we apply its strictest definition, but in iOS 7 Apple chose to double down on physicality and the use of real world metaphors. Creating a physics engine for the user interface is most certainly not digital authenticity. While designing for iOS 7 and beyond, usability should always trump ideology and aesthetic. Beauty can enhance usability, but ultimately we’re creating software for people to use, not stare at in awe. That’s where texture heavy design went wrong, and that’s where “digitally authentic” design will likely stumble as well.
Interface design is about the human, not the computer.