Friday, May 03, 2013

Flat or not?

Vidit Bhargava
The binary language doesn't really come naturally to humans. Ever since we started operating electronics we've looked for an interface to make them usable to the common man. A calculator has the interface of a certain combination of keys which we are so accustomed to that we'd recognize it as a calculator from far off. Likewise, the modern day computer has a monitor, keyboard and a mouse, this is distinctly recognizable too. The outer look of the operating system, the keys on the keyboard everything is designed to give pointers to a human, to operate a complex electronic machinery. These pointers define the user interface, which ultimately defines the user experience.

The qwerty keyboard has the same set of combinations that you would see on a typewriter. It was designed so, because it gave a sense of familiarity to the users. The tradition continues to touchscreens, where you would even find the 'f' and 'j' are marked, something that was meant to be on the physical keyboard, for blind people. No its not stupid to carry that to the touch screen, its only to give a deeper sense of familiarity to the users. So in a way, the skeuomorphic keyboard on the touchscreen which replicates the look and feel of a physical keyboard, which replicated the look and feel of a typewriter is just a pointer for the people to quickly adapt to a new technology.

So that was the first instance of skeuomorphism. Is that bad? Does it look terrible? Will Jony Ive be removing all that in iOS7? NO. Skeuomorphism isn't bad. What's bad is adding unnecessary skins to your software. That might be removed from iOS7, yes. So when people say, Jony Ive is all going to go for a flat design, its only partially true. Skeuomorphism remains an integral part of any user experience only the outlook might change. The textures might change, from leather to something more simpler.

Another paradigm people create about flat design, is about buttons. When we start looking at flat designs and see the buttons, most of them are un-intuitive and this partially carries to Apple's current design strategy too. Here's a small pic to make you understand better:

While the in its current state, when i press the play button, it gives me any sensation of a button at all, however on the right side if I tap the play button, the whole thing moves slightly down. giving me the sensation that I pressed something. While the left side is a rare case of un-intuitive button behavior in iOS. The right side, neither imposes skeuomorphism or flat design to suggest a solution. So while the play back bar is minimalistic and flat, the buttons need not be so un-intuitive. This is just one example, many popular iOS apps follow a similar design strategy regarding buttons. I wonder, is it the flat effect or just the designer's lazy-ness to create a button?

The Flat effect
Its true that the flat design is new, its fresh and its full of possibilities. But Skeuomorphism needn't be killed to make way for flatter designs. They can co-exist. A simple example would be the calculator:

While both of them are skeuomorphic. The default iOS calculator draws inspiration from a real life brand of calculators (Braun Calculator) , the calculator on the right side doesn't draw inspiration from any particular brand of calculators but still replicates the look and feel of a calculator to a large extent, deploying flat design practices to make it look fresh and different from the default calculator.

So, skeuomorphism isn't just an Apple thing, its everywhere. From your keyboard to your mobile phones. Flat Design is a fresh design practice, it looks fresh and is definitely different but Flat designs don't imply unintuitive touch inputs for e.g. unintuitive flat buttons and in the future skeuomorphism and flat designs will both coexist. Leather textures might not.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Iron Man Three - Review

Vidit Bhargava

It came quite as a surprise to me to see the number of people who had come to watch the movie for a morning show on a bright summer morning, honestly this wasn't the case in 2010 when Iron Man 2 came out. Not many knew about the skills of Robert Downey Jr., even fewer knew that there would be a post credits scene as well. Time's changed. Downey Jr.'s skills are being praised all over. People who came to see the Iron Man, came partly to witness the phenomenon called Tony Stark as well & to witness how Robert performed, with ease the role of Iron Man. Surely, Iron Man was quite successful in building a franchise. But unfortunately, the franchise has only gone downhill from the first in the series.

The movie begins post Avenger's. The invisible guy here is facing anxiety issues, he's never been the same after the wormhole incident from Avengers. But lets continue with the review. There's destruction all around. Bombs, buildings and people everything just blows up. In the midst of all this, we are reminded of an incident that happened sometime ago. A bio-tech scientific discovery, an accident, enemies and a terrorist called Mandarin (Pandit Bhanji a.k.a Sir Ben Kingsley ), Its Iron Man's job to give everyone a nice little christmas present, honestly there's so much Christmas cheer in the movie that it seems a little awkward watching it in May. This should've been released on 25th December. The destruction, incredibly life threatening situation & mortal dangers at every turn of the street  all seems melo-dramatic, unnecessary & futile, given that everyone realizes that heroes aren't meant to die in a super hero movie. I was strongly reminded of Dan Brown who is in a habit of putting its actors in situation of extreme danger in just about every chapter of the novel.

But viewers have something better in store its in the form of Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce both of them, a treat to watch. And obviously, Robert Downey Jr. and  is at his usual best. Together these three make this Dan Brownesque, Super Destructive Sci-Fi Thriller of sorts more watchable and provide a few genuinely fun moments which leave you with a good taste about the film which would otherwise have been a total disaster.  Don Cheadle who played the War Machine in Iron Man 2, is re-branded as Iron Patriot in the third installment, plays his role well. Jon Favreau also stars in a guest appearance in this movie, given that he had directed the first two, it probabibly isn't a bad idea to play body guard to Iron Man in the third installment. Talking of Iron Man, The Iron Man suit is as brilliant as it gets. The Mark 42 suit has a lot of surprises in store and again makes this movie so much more fun.

Stan Lee's appearance in this movie is quite hard to figure out. He comes and goes within 30 seconds. And you won't know its him unless you really are looking for it.

The character of Tony Stark: the billionaire former head of Stark Industries, is slowly iron casting itself into a Hollywood recreation of Elon Musk. Downey had spent a lot of time with Musk, before the start of the franchise, just to get a better shot at Tony Stark, Musk starred in Iron Man 2 and In Iron Man 3 we also see a mention of Stark wanting to do Spaceships and rockets before he went for weapons. Its not hard to draw parallels with Musk over here. Honestly, If Iron Man franchise continues even further, we'll either see Stark founding Tesla Motors or Musk getting into weapons manufacturing business or better still turning into Iron Man and revealing his identity on a tech-summit, All Things Digital would be the right place! :D

Watch it For the actors and specially Robert Downey Jr. but Unfortunately, Iron Man 3 neither has genius of the first part, nor the splendor of the second. Its some sort of a mashup of the first two. And ends up falling just short of the level of awesomeness you'd expect from the series.  Go with modest expectations and you won't be disappointed. I'll go with 3.5 / 5 for Iron Man 3. Its not as good as the previous two, but its not bad either.

Rating : *** 1/2

P.S. Wait for the post credits scene it changes the entire perspective of the movie. And if your theatre is as stupid as the one I went to, and doesn't show the post credits sequence, ask for the money back, or you could watch it on YouTube.