While we were discussing our Dourish reading and the necessary and implicit philosophical assumptions that people make when they design tools, I re-remembered a quote by John Maeda that I’ve mentioned before. Maeda says that when we do design with tools, we live in other people’s dreams. The idea being that those tools were themselves designed by other people, who made necessary and implicit philosophical assumptions when they created the tools.
As a traditional animator who has also worked extensively in Flash and Elastic Reality, I have always found it interesting how this all fleshes out in the animation aesthetics that have emerged on each of these digital tools. And, as compared to traditional animation. And, how much these differences owe to the respective tool.
For instance, “squash and stretch” is a core technique in hand-drawn animation so ingrained that it is commonly used as a benchmark in teaching new artists how to animate in mediums from motion graphics to 3D CGI. And yet, since the Flash toolkit doesn’t directly support true volumetric squashing and stretching, it is relatively understated in the Flash animation aesthetic. Whereas, cut-out, paste-up, pop-up visuals that are more directly supported by Flash’s animation toolkit are all over the Flash animation landscape. What the designers of Flash put in the box, thus shaped the first generation of web animation. Interestingly, another digital animation tool, Elastic Reality, which is used in production (rather than web) animation and which uses robust digital lattices to directly support squash-and-stretch, has engendered an aesthetic more akin to traditional animation wherever it is used.
Designing a tool that will allow people to rapidly turn a methodology into an actual workflow means making predecisions for the end user. Make too many, and you end up with a tool that isn’t very flexible. Make too few though, and you end up with a tool that isn’t very useful.