Delight on a Grand Scale

Favorites Jul 10, 2021

Super clever person, Mario Guzman, released Music Widget the other day. Here’s how he describes it:

A mini player remote for Apple Music. A take on the classic iTunes widget.

The app is exactly what it says on the tin. A pixel-perfect recreation of the old Mac OS X Dashboard widget that debuted with 10.4 Tiger in 2005. But it’s a bit more than that. Mario had to solve two problems.

First, a quick and dirty solution for making this app would be to boot up an old copy of Tiger and rip out the web assets (images, etc.) from the widget itself. But Tiger was 16 years ago. We have @2x retina displays on our Macs now. The original images would be too small or pixelly. Instead, he did things the hard way and took the time to rebuild everything from scratch in code.

Problem number two: Dark Mode wasn’t a thing sixteen years ago. Mario had to create that design himself. (It helped that he had a head start from previously bringing Dark Mode to his impressive rebuild of iTunes.)

Another bit of nostalgia that made the internet squeal last month was Tanner Villarete‘s recreation of the classic iPod interface on the web.

And, holy crap, have you seen The OldOS Project from Zane K? He built a fully functional version of iOS 4 with SwiftUI.

Why are people putting so much time, effort, and obvious love into remaking old user interfaces using modern development tools? Why bother?

I’m sure there’s a whole host of reasons, and each developer is motivated differently. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters. My real question is this:

Fifteen or twenty years from now. In 2036. In 2041. What will those kids rebuild from our devices today?

Mario and I had a short conversation about this last week, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’ve tried paying attention to the devices and apps I use all day. And, I just, don’t know?

Are future developers going to feel nostalgia for the hamburger menu? The Facebook newsfeed? Grayscale colors and identically shaped app icons? Flat UI?

I’m trying very hard not to fall into the trap of being yet another old man yelling at kids to get off my lawn, but I struggle to find delight on a grand scale in modern software. Every incremental step, year over year (from all companies, this isn’t just about Apple), seems to be focused on removing emotion and affection from our devices rather than finding ways to strengthen that bond.

Has the industry decided that our devices have reached a level of maturity that warrants making everything minimal, sterile, and utilitarian to help “do work” and “get stuff done”?

Where’s the fun? Where’s the experimentation? The joy and playfulness?

I see bursts of design like this coming from small companies and individual developers. But the major players have forgotten that how software makes you feel is just as important and necessary as what it lets you do.

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