Working with Figma feels like being detached from my Mac

User interface designers work either with Sketch, Adobe XD or with Figma. These applications provide an excellent set of tools for creating screen designs, prototypes and quick mock-ups. I have been in the business for more than 20 years and I still remember doing screen design in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop — which was quite painful and inefficient. So I very much welcomed the launch of Sketch in 2010. It was the first dedicated application for interface and interaction design. Adobe XD and Figma both followed in 2016.

All three design tools have their strength and weaknesses. But I have…

ML Creates New Challenges for User Interface Designers

Like so many other designers, I am currently following the development of new Machine Learning (ML) features in computer systems. For obvious reasons, I am really curious about the implications of ML for user interface design.

There is a lot going on — but a substantial part or the debate is on a fairly abstract level. Currently, very few real examples of user interfaces for ML systems or ML features exist. Machine Learning is usually kept in the background and is used for predictive analytics, recommendation engines or natural language processing.

There are few examples where users consciously interact with…

New book: ‘Algorithmen & Zeichen — Beiträge von Frieder Nake zur Gegenwart des Computers’

If you are reading my essays, you probably know Frieder Nake. For over 50 years, he has worked at the intersection of computer science, semiotics, art, interaction design and cultural theory. His essays and his art are remarkably relevant for the current debate on the significance of the computer in our society.

I know Frieder since the mid 90s. When I started my degree in graphic design at the Art College in Bremen, I immediately went into multimedia and web design. (Macromedia Director 4.0 was one of the first applications I learned on the Mac.) A fellow student told me…

‘Form follows function’ is a meaningless platitude that professional designers should avoid

Flourishing by Stefanie Weigele

One of the most irritating and misleading things that were ever said about design is ‘form follows function’. It is an inaccurate and deceptive aphorism. And yet it has shaped the public debate on design for decades. This is surprising, considering the fact that it is now 125 years old and was made by a fairly unknown architect.

Ironically, its success is entirely based on form. ‘Form follows function’ is memorable because it is a catchy alliteration and not because it is particularly meaningful.

But why is it so bad? Why do I dislike it so much? Let’s have a…

Photo by Simo Räsänen & Tauno Räsänen, CC BY-SA 3.0

In the last few years, a couple of my essays have been featured on Medium. Overall, it was a very pleasant experience and I really appreciate the feedback and constructive criticism from the editors. One thing, however, bugged me. Every single time, the editors changed the title of my essays. I admit that the titles were sometimes a bit obscure, but the editors continuously turned them into something bland and unimaginative.

Their motivation for this is clear: a title is the main reference to a posting. Given the attention span of the internet audience, a title should be literal and…

Why the camera should always be on during video conferences and online seminars

Hellenistic Theatrical Mask, 4th century BC

A couple of weeks ago, I published a posting on online teaching in times of covid-19. One of the more controversial points of the text was the question whether it is ok to enforce a cameras-on policy in video meetings. Is everyone in a video call obliged to show herself or himself? Should a moderator or a teacher enforce this rule?

Yes — I clearly think so. If you are running a class or heading a meeting, you can set the rules of the assembly. Traditional meetings have a code of conduct. However, as video conferencing is still fairly new…

Pragmatic reflections on how to teach design online

Empty lecture hall of the design department, FH Potsdam. Photo by Henrik Hagedorn.

The summer term is over — but the covid-19 crisis is not. When the classes start again in autumn, we won’t be able to move back to our long established ways of design teaching. Therefore, now is a good time to reflect on the online teaching activities of the last few months and plan the upcoming semester.

Almost everyone in the academic community is struggling with online teaching. My reflections are a contribution to the ongoing debate on how to teach art, design and other creative disciplines online. …

Why It Is Important to Understand and Appreciate Historic User Interface Designs. By Boris Müller and Frank Rausch

MacPaint by Apple Computer, 1984 (Source: Wikipedia)

Students traditionally learn art and design by studying the masters, analysing, sketching and interpreting the grand visions of the past. In doing this, they get to understand the ideas, concepts and motivations behind the visual form.

In user interface design, this practice is curiously absent. Not only do we — as professional user interface designers — lack historical awareness, but we also arrogantly assume that, with every new technology, old designs become obsolete. This is not the case.

When we think about old computers (‘old’ meaning older than two years nowadays), we usually think of constraints and limitations. Smaller screens…

A look at using pen and paper to design innovative data visualization interfaces

Photos by author unless otherwise noted

Data visualization is one of the most exciting and experimental areas in digital design. Creating complex, meaningful, and visually intriguing images is a formidable challenge for every designer. By applying strategies from information design and generative design, it is possible to create data-driven visualizations that are both insightful and enticing. The work of designers like Moritz Stefaner, Nadieh Bremer, Kim Albrecht, and Stefanie Posavec (and many others) demonstrate the power of design-driven data visualizations.

Everyone uses e-mail. But a lot of people are struggling with organising their e-mail workload. So in this essay, I discuss strategies for a more efficient e-mail management and how to write e-mails that work.

I like e-mail. I don’t love it — but it is definitely my preferred mode of communication. It is accessible, robust, simple and it works. Furthermore, it’s an open standard and it’s decentralised — something that cannot be valued enough these days. In a way, it is one of the last remnants of the open internet.

Yes, I know. E-mail is for old people. In times of Slack, WhatsApp, Signal, Twitter, etc., e-mail seems like tech from the last century. And that’s because it actually is tech from the last century.

However, e-mail is still the workhorse of the internet

Boris Müller

Professor for Interaction Design at FH Potsdam, co-director of Urban Complexity Lab | |

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