3D to 2D and 2D to 1D

My friends from barcoo are not only great customers; they also have developed the best 1D barcode scanning application for mobile phones. Because barcoo aims to give transparency to consumers, we agreed on a corporate style that hardly uses any 2.0 and pseudo 3D effects like gloss or drop shadows—an approach we felt to imply seriousness and was inspiring confidence.

Shortly after barcoo entered Nokia’s Ovi Store, a huge banner showed the illustration of the happy barcoo lady among icons of Amazon and Facebook. Everything was in pseudo 3D, and so was the girl I had spent so much effort on and had I never drawn like this :)


Actually I was surprised to see the trend towards three dimensional depictions of icons manifest itself in such an insolent way (screenshot from summer 2009). When barcoo was released for the App Store I expected something similar to happen. Maybe Apple would delay the release because the icon was lacking a gloss effect? Or maybe they would add a gloss themselves? But nothing like this happened. Now barcoo rocks the App Store, in all its beauty and functionality.

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This Thursday: Drop Shadow Talk by Jay Bolter

On January 21, Jay Bolter will give the next and for now last Drop Shadow Talk of my lecture series @ Berliner Technische Kunsthochschule. As usual the talk will start at 7 pm in room J/K.

Jay Bolter is author of several influential books on new media theory. For example he has co-written “Remediation” and “Windows and Mirrors”. Usually he teaches Information Design and Technology at Atlanta Tech and I am very happy he made it to Berlin.

The title of the talk will be “Performing in the mirror: digital design in the age of social media” and the introduction reads like this:

“In the 1990s digital design could focus largely on the World Wide Web as a remediation of graphic design for print as well as on interaction design for Internet-based experiences. While these areas have not disappeared, the development of social media for the Web and now for mobile technologies poses new challenges for design. An important question is whether polished, transparent, modernist design is appropriate or even possible in an era of user-generated contents such as the eclectic pages of Facebook and the cluttered Google maps on mobile phones. Other design approaches may be suggested by Performance Studies: that is, by thinking of digital artifacts as opportunities for users to define and perform their own identities—for themselves and for their digital ‘publics’.”

Drop by!

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New Versions

This is funny: as it seems, currently everybody who wants to run Windows 7 properly on a Mac has to buy not only Microsoft’s new operating system, but also the new update from Cupertino.

When I installed 7 over the turn of the year, all hardware of my Mac was detected as generic. It was not possible to use all keys, sound did not work and the graphic card did not render the windows with transparency as I was used to with Vista—nor could I detect and drop shadows below them! (Btw, even without shadows I was able to distinguish all windows properly.)

At “Under the Wire” I found out, that the current drivers only come with Boot Camp 3.0 and this is only included in Snow Leopard. After the update and the installation of the drivers the drop shadows are as shady as ever; on Windows 7 and Snow Leopard.

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Drop Shadow Workshop @ Merz Aka

I knew there would be a lot to document after my Drop Shadow Workshop at Merz Akademie in Stuttgart. Again all of my students there made very nice projects. This time we collaborated on a Tumblr-Blog. I came to love Tumblr’s simplicity during the seminar. Its standard theme (which we used, slightly modified) is a great example of a drop shadow centered design, btw. See for yourself—on the Drop Shadow Workshop Blog! :)

Daniel and Marina for example, claimed the drop shadow in current interfaces were a strategy to make the computer experience more real and to make the user forget that he was using at computer at the same time. So they decided to remove all references to the computer from Apple’s website, from a MediaMarkt leaflet Mario Barth was promoting and from the front-page of the German PC Welt. Astonishingly only drop shadows remained.

Marina & Daniel

Jens is big fan of games from the C64 era. In his funny pictures he places drop shadows below sprites from famous games of this age; like Lemmings, International Karate or Summer Games. The effect is striking (see below). Two ages and two looks of computer graphics that could not be more diverse, eventually collide.

International Karate

Brandy used the shadow of Windows’ icon for “User Accounts” in the system preferences. She felt this politically correct depiction of an American middle-class couple failed to express all user’s individuality. Everybody in our seminar looked different, wore different clothes, had a different haircut than those two—and don’t we all use our computer in a very individual way? I liked her photographs with members of our course in the front and a shadow of the icon projected on the background a lot. And thanks to Brandy I finally have a fitting portrait photo I can use for my About page :)

Users from Brandy Briant

I am looking forward to present these and other works together with the ones from my students at BTK at the “Drop Shadow Show” in Berlin next semester.

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Drop Shadow Decade

Spiegel and Focus covers from December 7, 2009
It is not easy to admit: this week I regard Focus to have its finger closer on the pulse of time than DER SPIEGEL. The makers of the latter one remind their readers that the years after 9/11 were “wasted” and the world has to learn from the almost-decade of brainlessness. Focus calls it a decade of terror, crisis and coffee shops; also a nervous one and promises a special retrospect. Certainly true. And yet most of it can be regarded as commonplace and I would not mention it here, if there was no deeper drop-shadow-related truth in it.

DER SPIEGEL selects the so often seen 9/11 scenario as most important and spreads it on the whole page, except three smaller pictures placed at the very bottom. Focus shows the same scenario, but arranges its “pictures of the decade” as Cover Flow.

Apple’s way to flip through your music lately is very fashionable among print designers, as it seems. For example, last summer in Germany there was an advertising campaign of Lucky Strike that used the same principle. In a Cover Flow manner the most appealing Lucky Strike packs of the last two decades were shown. See my post from July 31.

But it is not the dacede of Cover Flow (yet), I’d rather call it the Decade of the Drop Shadow. When Microsoft added “XP” to the name of its back then new operating system and Apple released OS “X” in 2001, a paradigm change in graphical user interface design was on its way. Interfaces no longer had to be tidy and usable only, since 2001 they were designed to enchant their users, to delight them and to be experienced. And with this new core requirement (and the technical possibilities) came the rise of the digital drop shadow effect.

Now the Decade of the Drop Shadow draws to a close. More and more information and general knowledge constitutes itself not via TV or printed media but by graphical user interfaces like browsers, news readers, map applications and software on mobile phones. The questions about the last decade should not be, if it was “wasted” or “nervous”. More of interest are the questions about the future: will there be a second decade of drop shadows? Or will there be a decade of gloss and reflection? How will the usage of drop shadows be democratized and will drop-shadow-less designs and interfaces rise to high culture or vanish in subculture?

P.S. If someone finds more references to Cover Flow (especially in media besides web or graphical user interfaces) please let me know here. Thanks.

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Microsoft to Democratize Drop Shadows?

Possible Drop Shadows of Microsoft Word 2007
The “democratization” of cultural technologies has been a side effect of the biggest software company’s quest for power ever since.

This becomes visible with the fonts Arial and Segoe UI, for example. Being screen adaptations of the Swiss typographic legends Helvetica and Frutiger Next, the transfer to the screen by Microsoft and Monotype has never been smooth and has divided the typographic community. On the one hand, there are the ones cherishing Arial as a work of art (or screen readability); on the other hand, there are the ones in favor of the Swiss original, seeing in Arial nothing more than a shameless rip-off. The same applies to Segoe UI.

Something similar is about to happen with blurred drop shadows. With an elegant ribbon selector, Microsoft Office 2007 does not only offer a practical and emotional way to apply shadows to images, it is also a nice tool to preview, compare and eventually apply digital shadow drops with a few clicks. Above you can see a screenshot from the image frame panel with a black frame applied to it. This frame also includes two drop shadows, a smaller inner one and a wider outer one. The German tooltip says “Moderater Rahmen, Schwarz”.

I predict those shadows a brilliant future. Let the drop shadows prosper and take them away from the Creative Suite owners!

P.S. Exporting those to HTML renders the WordArt-like graphics into perfectly transparent PNG (and GIF) graphics (see above, no Photoshop was required).

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Energy-Saving Lamps Do Not Weaken Drop Shadows


With Apple being an intertwined hard- and software maker, its self-reference in icon design is only understandable. For example, Cinema Displays, Mighty Mice and the latest track pads (recognizable by the new aspect ratio and the missing button) made their way into the graphical user interface. Being usually present in the interface before the majority of Apple users goes to a store, they remind users from time to time to make their collection of Apple hardware complete.

This time, when updating from “Leopard” to “Snow Leopard”, the icon for “Energy Saver” in the system preferences undergoes a more significant change. Because Apple does not have a set of iLights in their product range (yet), they at first decided to use the most generic one they could come up with—a common light bulb (actually a nice icon design approach). But Apple is getting greener and greener and I guess this is why the update to “Snow Leopard” replaced the common bulb with a politically correct energy-saving one.

I was concerned. Would the energy-saving bulb be as powerful as the old one or would it weaken the overall illumination on my desktop? And thus the intensity of drop shadows?

Leopard and Snow Leopard Shadows
On the image above I compared drop shadows below the system preference’s panel on a white background; on the left a screenshot from “Leopard” and on the right one from “Snow Leopard”. As you can see, there is no difference. This means, that the new generation of energy-saving lamps in Apple’s GUI are as strong as their energy-consuming predecessors. Lucky us. The drop shadows are going to persist.

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Patron Survives Google Pin Incident

Recently my patron of the arts Tobias Müller from Erlangen almost got struck by a Google Maps pin falling from the sky.

Google Pin hit Erlangen

Contemplating about the calm atmosphere at N 49° 35.4561 E 11° 0.3963 and up to no mischief, he decided to set a bookmark pin on the Google Maps application of his iPhone (screenshot).

“I noticed the drop shadow first”, he says. “When I looked up I saw a gigantic pin some 20 meters above me.” This pin darted earthwards at breath-taking speed. With a loud noise the pin poked into the ground. Only his quick reflexes, sportsmanship and a quick jump sideways saved his life. Until now the pins remain at the site for further investigation. Yet an adequate explanation of the incident is still pending. Weather radar has not shown any anomalies, carrier T-Mobile denies any knowledge of the event “what so ever”, and Google himself cannot explain what led to such a dramatic “series of misfortunes”.

This is not the first occurrence of Google interface elements going nuts in real space. For some inexplicable reason these events have been hardly noticed by the public.

The sight of supernatural powers related to Google interface elements was first successfully documented by scientists Lialina and Espenschied in their research “Midnight” in fall 2006. Uncanny manifestations of a gigantic Google Maps marker have been sighted in Berlin in winter 2006 and in Poland in spring 2009 by media artist Aram Bartholl and again in Berlin in winter 2008 near Potsdamer Platz by my former student Thomas Göthe.

“I will try to use Bing Maps instead”, Müller states laconically. If obscure events proceed, he probably will not be the only user to do so. And if the company continues with its policy of secretiveness and if it does not reveal, how it plans to manifest (its interface elements) in real space, it soon will be a poor Google to lead the shady list of pop culture conspiracy theories. (Picture: Daniela Stier)

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Windows Bio

I am looking at the new package design of Windows 7 and I am contemplating. What is it supposed to tell me?

Windows Bio
It is green and in the upper left corner of the windows logo, there is a fir tree. In the upper right one, there is a shininess dazzling me. In the lower left I see an eagle flying and in the lower right grass is growing into the logo. (I will skip hexagonal lens flares, correct- and plus-signs and LED-like dots on a matrix in my considerations.)

I suppose, the green color is intended to distinguish “Home Premium” from the various other versions. And Windows always has been a shining light among the operating systems, so that explains the logotype’s brightness.

The tree is a symbol for the down-to-earthness of Windows users and the bird for free enterprise. The grass implies personal (and economical) growth when using (buying) the new product. And yet, this box design makes a dent, that this OS is the most environmentally sustainable on the market. It seems, Microsoft is now even greener than Apple.

P.S. The drop shadows surrounding the Windows logo are extremely discreet, btw.

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Pioneering Swabian Automakers, Once Again

Yesterday Lars Harmsen from Magma Brand Design gave the first of the Drop Shadow Talks. At the beginning he spoke about the visual enrichment of corporate identities. As it seems, especially the German automobile industry uses enrichment effects a lot. BMW, Audi, Opel, Volkswagen, they all updated their logotypes and corporate styles with drop shadows, gradients, and all kind of 3D effects – except Mercedes.

German Car Brands with drop shadows

The new corporate design made by Jung von Matt really stands out. A neat white Mercedes star is placed extremely well in the upper right corner of the layout. It works very well in print and even on the web there are drop shadow below the cars only. As it seems after the crisis the pioneering spirit of Swabian automobile manufacturers returns—yet unexpectedly different. I am curious if Mercedes will lead the a wave of shadow-less corporate designs? (Imagery from October 28, 2009)

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