From Curtains to Clicks
How I use theatrical principles when designing for screens
Application design shares intriguing similarities and contrasts with stage and set design. At the core, both disciplines are deeply rooted in crafting experiences that engage, inform, or entertain.
In application design, interface elements like buttons, icons, and menus function much like actors on a stage. Each has a defined role, from initiating actions to conveying information. These elements have to be strategically placed and sized to guide people through the experience, much like how an actor’s placement and actions on stage are meticulously directed.
Similarly, in stage design, the actors are the dynamic elements that bring the static set to life. Their movements, expressions, and dialogues serve specific functions: to tell a story, evoke emotions, or provoke thought. The stage and set, with its props and backdrops, serve as the framework within which these actors operate. It creates the atmosphere and sets the context, much like the layout and color schemes of an application.
In both fields, the harmony between dynamic and static elements is crucial. Just as an actor would struggle in a poorly designed set, interface elements can flounder in an ill-conceived application layout. Each actor or interface element also has "lines" or actions that must be clear to the audience or the people interacting with the application.
One clear difference lies in the dimensionality. Stage and set design often work in a three-dimensional space and account for a multitude of viewing angles. Application design is generally confined to a two-dimensional plane. However, in application design, the user directly interacts with the "actors," clicking them, dragging them, essentially directing them, unlike in a stage production.
Timing is another aspect. In stage design, the sequence is fixed, with a linear progression from Act 1 to the final curtain call. In application design, the user often dictates the pace and sequence, requiring a more flexible and adaptable "performance" from the interface elements.
In sum, the principles that underline both disciplines may vary in application but are rooted in the same foundational ideas of crafting meaningful, engaging experiences. Whether through the flicker of an on-stage candle or the responsiveness of a digital button, the aim is to guide, delight, and perhaps enlighten.
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