SER Blog  Innovation & Technology

New objectivity in the modern digital era

Markus Hartbauer

Break down the boundaries of arts and crafts, technology and industry, architecture and construction to unite all of them in one new, holistic philosophy: 100 years ago, the founders of the Bauhaus movement laid the foundations for a new era of aesthetics in architecture and design with this revolutionary claim. Today, software architects can still learn much from their approach.

“The ultimate aim of all creative activity is to build something! ...And so we’re building a new guild of craftsmen, free from the arrogant class segregation which tried to build a tall wall between craftsmen and artists!” With these words, Walter Gropius, almost silver-tongued, expressed his demands for the objective of the newly founded Weimarer Schule des Bauens in his April 1919 Bauhaus manifesto. Even if his choice of words seems a little dramatic in today’s day and age, 100 years on, the idea behind them hasn’t lost any of its impact. In contrast to the playfulness of Jugendstil, renowned artists such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, and architects such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, shaped the sober functional form of Classical Modernism in their role as Bauhaus teachers. The premise: Arts and crafts, rather than being threatened by 20th century industrial mass consumption, were encouraged to grow - thanks to a radical, holistic approach: Artists and craftsmen worked with every kind of material across the boundaries of urban planning, residential properties and items of furniture. We can see something similar today in the way companies are working to break down old silos, cooperate and make use of synergies between trades. This idea has shaped our society’s understanding of architecture and design. Let’s take industrial designer Dieter Rams. Towards the end of the 1950s, his designs transformed Braun, the electronics brand, into a style icon – and a generation later, the brand became a role model for Apple’s iconic aesthetics.

A pioneer for the digital era

But what has all this got to do with software and websites? A great deal. The principles of Bauhaus are still relevant for digital designers. New Objectivity is more popular than ever for UI/UX developers in the age of digitalization. A few years ago, people were trying to get software graphics to mimic the real world (otherwise known as ”skeuomorphism”), but now the tables have turned and it’s back to simplicity. The evolution from playfulness to minimalism is clear to see, with interfaces that are as smooth as can be and a simplified language of color and form. Where colors are used, they are implemented in order to help us understand different interfaces. These changes are clearly aligned with concepts of architecture, interior design and the furniture industry, just like the Bauhaus school postulated.

Interior design for virtual spaces

It’s no wonder that these principles of architecture are now being brought over into the digital world. When we’re talking about the Internet, or Cyberspace, we often talk in metaphors of “space”. We talk about downloading, uploading, email addresses and how about “just going over to Instagram”. In brief: When it comes to the web, we use spatial information, as humans have thought in terms of space for thousands of years. In fact, we have essentially been concerned with interior design since prehistoric times and cave painting. When attempting to capture the digital revolution of the Internet in terms of language, we revert back to tried and tested concepts without even knowing it. With this in mind, every one of us looks at our personal computer in terms of “screen real estate”. Our desktop has become part of our office, a place where you spend almost every day.

As software architects, we want to help design these digital spaces with the suitable applications – just like traditional architects do with real-life spaces. At SER, we work with similar principles to Bauhaus – including behind the scenes: We take different, yet standardized, software components and create solutions to meet our clients’ specific needs. Not only are we concerned with quality, but also simplicity and standardization, as well as going back to basics and reusing certain templates. Module-based work simplifies maintenance, minimizes the possibility of errors and reduces costs, whilst still being highly effective. Just like Bauhaus: Outstanding quality and innovative design together with industrial solutions which are highly practicable for as many people as possible.

Form and function

Let’s be honest: Business solutions haven't always fulfilled this demand. Software design in the early days was often quite abysmally functional. Countless buttons and information all together on a single interface, with a poorly formatted Excel table as the icing on the cake. The main aim was for users to find functions quickly. It was only later that designers realized users’ minds were being overloaded. Nowadays, the main aim is to make it easy for users and to help them with their daily workload, all the while remaining unobtrusive. As per the famous motto: “Form follows function”. However, to follow this principle, it is necessary for both things to be balanced: As far as we should refrain from form being an end in itself (something such as a terribly playful user interface), the same applies to solely relying on function – otherwise we’ll end up back with the gray Excel tables from bygone days.

At SER, we like to follow the Bauhaus principles and design rather modest interfaces. And this doesn’t mean retro or boring: Ergonomics has proven that people work better with as little additional cognitive output as possible. A good business solution demands as little as possible from the user so that it doesn’t tire them out and they can concentrate on their actual work. It’s all about aesthetics, minimization and standardization.

A question of approach

But it’s also a matter of internal approach: Bauhaus has always tried to unite technology and art. Software can benefit from this approach: The technology is the program code, which the user shouldn’t be aware of. The art is creating a user experience which is pleasant yet useful, as it makes work easier. And so successful software is created through a fusion of art and technology.

There’s a lot more to good design than meets the eye. When customers are making their purchasing decisions, they are very rarely able to see the source code. What helps here are the interfaces and the user interface design – and these aspects will only become more important in the future. This is also due to the fact that the requirements for consumer software aimed at end users, and business software aimed at employees, are becoming more and more similar: The people using their own iPhone on a Sunday to post something on Facebook or order something from Amazon are the very same who then don their suit on a Monday morning, go to work and make business decisions. In brief: Those who are used to using appealing, intuitive interfaces in their private life, won’t want to do without them at work. That’s why, at SER, we address the users of our business software as consumers.

The building of the future

Ease of use and user experience are essential criteria, and streamlining, a central concept. Just like Material Design by Google: It’s all about reducing things to the essential. New Objectivity has arrived in the digital era. And so, just like Bauhaus mastermind Gropius said 100 years before: “Let us strive for, conceive and create the new building of the future together,” as declared in his 1919 founding manifesto. A task which software architects deal with every single day.

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