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Isaac Newton is dead.

In digital design, there is neither matter nor movement. But there is the appearance of both. Whenever a file shifts across a desktop or a cursor flits over the screen, its movement and interactions with other objects imply a system of physics even though these forms are only convenient fictions that allow us to navigate a graphical user interface. The same is true of websites, programs, apps and games for that matter: one has the sense of dealing with objects that move in space, yet both the objects and the space are artificial. Within today’s digital environments, movement is two dimensional and mechanistic, yet intuitive. Easing animations create the appearance that an object has mass and is responding to force and friction. The convention when applying these animations is to approximate the typical physical movement of objects in the real world, tweaking it for better functionality and design. The artificially constructed movement of objects around the desktop is so familiar at this point, that we don’t even question it. It is as expected as gravity. To design purists, the very idea of three-dimensional space in the digital sphere is inherently “skeumorphic.” Skeumorphism refers to design, especially digital design, that makes use of anachronistic decorative elements from the physical world that are no longer necessary in digital applications. In recent years, Apple was on the receiving end of much criticism for their supposedly skeumorphic design. While I agree that much of Apple’s visual design was flawed, their approach to the fiction of mass and movement in their interfaces has been quite revolutionary. iOS and OS X Lion-enabled devices began to introduce new principles of mass and movement to digital design. Using these apple devices, objects slide across the screen, like a puck on an air hockey table. There is a clear sense of inertia, momentum and friction. But the physics of their constructed reality no longer completely resembles that of the physical world, even approximately. In fact, there were even reports of users experiencing motion sickness because of the animations in iOS 7. The physics of all digital space have always been a fiction. Now Apple has opened the door to more imaginative and speculative fictions. The only danger is that Apple (and the rest of us) will fail to appreciate the possibilities that have been unlocked. It is now possible to explore other movements and mediums, such as those of an underwater environment or objects that are lighter than air or slightly heavier than air, like helium filled balloons or paper airplanes. But these are just initial steps on the way to an ultimate goal of a constructed physics that is both original and intuitive; one that leaves physical reality behind, but users can understand and master. Motion graphics technologies and libraries available on most modern browsers are opening up these possibilities to anyone with knowledge and imagination. In digital design, there is neither matter nor movement. But there is the appearance of both. Whenever a file shifts across a desktop or a cursor flits over the screen, its movement and interactions with other objects imply a system of physics even though these forms are only convenient fictions that allow us to navigate a graphical user interface. The same is true of websites, programs, apps and games for that matter: one has the sense of dealing with objects that move in space, yet both the objects and the space are artificial. Within today’s digital environments, movement is two dimensional and mechanistic, yet intuitive. Easing animations create the appearance that an object has mass and is responding to force and friction. The convention when applying these animations is to approximate the typical physical movement of objects in the real world, tweaking it for better functionality and design. The artificially constructed movement of objects around the desktop is so familiar at this point, that we don’t even question it. It is as expected as gravity. To design purists, the very idea of three-dimensional space in the digital sphere is inherently “skeumorphic.” Skeumorphism refers to design, especially digital design, that makes use of anachronistic decorative elements from the physical world that are no longer necessary in digital applications. In recent years, Apple was on the receiving end of much criticism for their supposedly skeumorphic design. While I agree that much of Apple’s visual design was flawed, their approach to the fiction of mass and movement in their interfaces has been quite revolutionary. iOS and OS X Lion-enabled devices began to introduce new principles of mass and movement to digital design. Using these apple devices, objects slide across the screen, like a puck on an air hockey table. There is a clear sense of inertia, momentum and friction. But the physics of their constructed reality no longer completely resembles that of the physical world, even approximately. In fact, there were even reports of users experiencing motion sickness because of the animations in iOS 7. The physics of all digital space have always been a fiction. Now Apple has opened the door to more imaginative and speculative fictions. The only danger is that Apple (and the rest of us) will fail to appreciate the possibilities that have been unlocked. It is now possible to explore other movements and mediums, such as those of an underwater environment or objects that are lighter than air or slightly heavier than air, like helium filled balloons or paper airplanes. But these are just initial steps on the way to an ultimate goal of a constructed physics that is both original and intuitive; one that leaves physical reality behind, but users can understand and master. Motion graphics technologies and libraries available on most modern browsers are opening up these possibilities to anyone with knowledge and imagination.

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