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Research agenda

RESEARCH AGENDA: Interface criticism: Researching interface aesthetics

Although DARC is inclusive to all aspects of digital aesthetics, a more specific interest around the computer interface and the critical aspects of its aesthetics has evolved.

The human computer interface has been a growing part of our culture for decades. Wherever we go we find interfaces to the computer. The range of interfaces is expanding to meet the needs of different technologies, uses, cultures and contexts: mobile, networked, ubiquitous or embedded in the environment and architecture. The interface is a dominant cultural form providing a way to mediate between humans and computers and between culture and data, affecting the way we perceive cultural activities and perform them in public and private.

Our conception of the interface is not restricted to the well-known graphical user interface between humans and computers, e.g. the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointers). The term interface indicates many different contact points and exchanges between different programs and data layers in a computer, between different computers (e.g. in a network), between humans and computer (such as graphical user interfaces), and as a mediator between humans in e.g. net culture, interface culture and the public sphere. All interfaces, however, are designs that combine – and translate between – signs and signals. As such, the interface is at the core of the computer. The functioning of the interface, its designed juxtaposing of human signs and machine signals, is therefore essential to the functioning of the computer.

The question of interface aesthetics is intrinsically linked to our perception of the interface and the need to cast light upon how interfaces can embed choices, conduct, languages, and ultimately values, worldviews and aesthetics into technical infrastructures. The word aesthetics comes from Aisthesis, which means sense perception, and today we perceive our environment through interfaces. Aesthetic theory consequently needs to develop a critical vocabulary towards computers and interfaces, an interface criticism, our research aims to be one such contribution. An aesthetic aspect of the interface is usually subordinated to a functionalistic dimension (e.g. the use of buttons for actions) or even a stylistic dimension (interfaces may look good or feel good). Conversely, we see interface aesthetics as a critical investigation of interfaces, what they mean for – and how they function in – contemporary culture.

Our aim is to provide an up-to-date perspective on the aesthetics of the computer. We see interface aesthetics as an appropriate paradigm for a critical discussion of the computer and how it relates to art and culture today. We research both developments: How interfaces are related to culture; and the art that has developed around interfaces, often undermining common conceptions of the interface.