Community as Interface
Thoughts on interface standards and reflections on the Community as Interface workshop at the University of los Andes in Colombia, September 2018 by Michelle Mildenberg and Mátyás Czél 


It was 2013 when Snapchat started to become popular in my friend's circles. I remember first, it was kind of a fun private alternative to other social networks to share disappearing 'sketchy' contents with each other - and to be suprised (and upset) when someone made a screenshot... Later, the same year Snapchat introduced ‘Stories’ which then becomes the basis of the visual language of today’s social networking. Snapchat (and later Instagram) torn down the last barriers between live experiences and shared experiences. I was sucked in too…

I would like to avoid (or at least cut short) a self-reflective kind of tantrum about social media habits. I am trying to focus on very specific problems I faced as a creative individual. Maybe I could also prove that there is not everything which is lost and maybe there is a way to fix what is gone wrong. 

After a few months of broadcasting the private moments of my life and I realised that the Snap format quickly replaced my previous routines of recording. When I scrolled through my Camera roll I was very disappointed by the quality of memories I have inherited from this new format. I realised that whole act of capturing memories became an autonomous act of trying to record as much as my eyes can see - like an amateur news reporter of my own life.

All the preferences I used to think about when I composed a photograph (or video) amalgamated with the mindset of an instant publisher. I have unconsciously started to apply the new standard to make my captures fit better, despite how I wanted it to be remembered for myself. My vision became an underpaid employee for a social networking company. 

New standards

A more 'instant', ‘worry-less’ sharing model was around already of course with Instagram and its cheesy/sketchy filters but it still had somehow a kind of distance by leaving time to elaborate, compose (to fit that square proportion) and decide about sharing later.

These were the times when It started to be clear that the internet was becoming a kind of pre-narrated environment by standardised digital interfaces.

There was nothing new in it that interfaces are designed to do things in ‘normalised’ ways. The first operating systems, with a graphic interface already had coherency of design guidelines to follow across the system but it only became clear for me in the last few years that these spreading habits dictated by designers, going to define the way how we experience our world. 

Today, the market share of mobile operating systems is largely divided between only two players, Apple and Google (99,6% of all mobile operating systems are shared between iOS and Android). We can see that Apple and Google are releasing more and more standardised packages from car industry through home devices to virtual reality development. Hence as their products and services are pushing into a new sector, a new segment of our human interactions are being incorporated by their visual frameworks (Human Interface Guidelines, Material Design etc.) If that would not be worrying enough, imagine your virtual reality experiences through lenses in Google’s happy colours.

Neo-classicism (Front-end)

The simple, familiar designs leaving no question for the users. The neverending feeds of Facebook and Instagram became as much trusted frameworks for doctrines as Greek and Roman art and architecture for governments. 

It is not a coincidence that experiencing our society through measurement systems embedded in almost every social interface, is giving us a new understanding of importance. Hence the rise of previously unheard views going mainstream by populism. Moreover, when an extremist group is filtered through their messages through these standard narratives, it legitimizes their voice. By extrem I don’t only mean terrorists or radical communities but individuals with extremely high commitment to utilise these standards for their own well-being or mental destruction if you like.

While we are all worried about the infrastructural issues like data-privacy and surveillance, as mostly visual designers we know very little about them. What we instead know about are the visual narratives. We know if you put a profile picture in a graphic shape like a star or a circle they build up as different narratives in the user’s minds. The problem is that what we are most likely tend to be doing designing very limited skins for existing systems.

Workshop - Community as Interface

In September we organised a workshop for a group BA design students at the Universidad the los Andes in Bogotá with Michelle Mildenberg with a goal to define, deconstruct a standardised design pattern and replace it with community motivated interactions.

Our aim was to deconstruct very specific interface patterns and to start to think and design hollistically with the back-end system of networking (machine human-powered or both) in mind.

On the first day we handed out a simple brief in which they had to rebuild their own internet by necessity: 
-What would be the most important things for you to reclaim from the internet?
-How is it becoming accessible for others? 
-Identify what type of content do you usually create. Would you ask anything in exchange 
for your data/service/content? 

They had to consider that there is no central platform which they can take as granted to share their projects on and there is no search engine to catalog the network.