By now most of us must have heard about the ‘Apple iPad‘ tablet, the latest ‘creation’ to come out of the Apple stable. Some might have even followed the January 27 media event where the company announced the gadget. I wouldn’t like to go into the debate of whether the iPad is really worth it, but would in fact like to draw the attention to a picture which Apple shared as part of it’s presentation that morning.
This picture has just stuck with me since that event. I’ve always looked at computers and software as a different form of art, and I don’t think anyone could have put this fact in a simpler yet innovative way! A brief look at the history of computer technology says a lot in this regard. I’ll try and illustrate this with a few examples which come to mind immediately –
User Interface (UI): Big old computer systems may have given way for new personal handheld devices and huge loops of wires and bulky machines may have made way for virtual reality and operating system virtualization techniques, but the focus on an attractive UI has remained constant over the years. In a world of cut-throat competition in the consumer electronics market, an intuitive UI is what decides whether your product sells or not.
Designing a good UI not only requires a good understanding of the underlying technology but also a keen sense or art and drawing. Apple’s Mac OS and Microsoft’s Windows operating systems have always openly favored an intuitive and graphics-rich UI but even operating systems like the open-source Linux, which like most other contemporary operating systems was born into a ‘command-line only’ world and to this day has appealed to only a geeky few, have now opted to go for a strong and instinctive UI to attract other regular computer users. Similarly, intelligent designers were able to overcome the challenge posed by the limited screen real estate and a plethora of screen sizes and form factors on the latest mobile handheld devices to post stunning UI, and even revolutionized the user-input methods by promoting virtual keyboards and voice activated commands like those manifested on latest Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Nexus One mobile devices.
Platforms for development of artistic content: Computer systems themselves have evolved from purely numerical calculation machines into platforms which aid in graphic designs and creation of art. The advent of Desktop Publishing in the 1990’s, and animation and 3D modeling softwares are few examples. The fields of photography and movie-making have been massively impacted by the advances in technology with the lavish use of post-processing softwares. Adobe Photoshop has been a favorite with amateur as well as professional photographers for many years now, and software suites like the Final Cut Studio (for video editing) and Logic Studio (for music editing) have been in use at all major film studios in the world. Case in the point: A R Rahman who combined his artistic potential with software technology (Logic Studio, in this case) to create an Oscar winning music score for the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘. In fact, from what I’ve read about the Apple development team behind the Macintosh project back in the 1980’s, one of their basic notions was to include as many different software tools (for drawing, sketching etc.) as possible in the Mac so that the user would have no reason to shy away from exploring his artistic side for the lack of a suitable tool! (Reference: Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made by Andy Hertzfeld)
Balancing productivity with performance: It may sound interesting but I feel that art is present on the ‘performance’ side of things too. Anyone who has worked in the software development field will understand how critical the issue of resource-usage and performance is to any application (or website), more so when the intended target platform are resource-constrained mobile devices. Designing a system to achieve it’s intended goal while staying in the tight performance window is a challenge faced by hardware engineers too, especially in the micro-processor and chipset fabrication industry. It’s something similar to what a ballet dancer does – again a different form of art!
As you can clearly see, art and technology definitely go hand in hand, though things might be slightly skewed towards technology (as the distances on the signboards in the picture above suggest).
To round off, I would like to quote an example from a very different field – from the world of Cricket. I recently came across an interview given by the legendary West Indian Sir Vivian Richards, where he said that throughout his career (and especially on the bowler-friendly pitches in England) he not only felt like a batsman but also “felt like an artist”. He said that he had to craft his way around the fielders to score runs and be inventive in his batting approach, and that’s where the artistry came in.
One need not be Michelangelo and paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City to have proof artistic skills. Anything done with wholeheartedness, including developments in the science and technology field, will undoubtedly have a shade of art and craftsmanship in it.