The Evolution of UIs according to me


The Evolution of UIs according to me



Skins are custom graphical user interfaces that became very popular in the 90’s with the appearance of theme-able audio players like WinAmp. Skins provided a form of artistic expression that was a reflection of the free-for-all internet of the time. If we examine skins as the forerunners of modern user interfaces we can see the bumps in the digital road we’ve traversed. From usability principles, to accessibility and aesthetics. Looking back at how skins evolved may provide some ideas of how user interfaces will continue evolving.

This talk will examine skins as artifacts of our not too distant past and the and the trends they set. Skins showed varied artistic influences from disney to cyber-punk. The artists responsible for creating them did it all for free. They designed with very strict technical constraints and found ways to push pixels until they could please users with increasingly imaginative designs. This was a time when download counters were currency. The visual impact of the end product mattered more than whether or not a design was usable.

The adoption of skins made it easier for new computer users to relate the real world to the digital world. Artists strived to make skins look like real world objects that a user would want to grab off their screen. This familiarity from the physical to the digital served to make it easier for users to transition to more abstract UI ideas that emerged subsequently. Ideas that we now see in our modern user interfaces.

Finally, though skins pushed the idea of what a user interface could be, they also violated what we now understand from usability principles. Skins tended to offer gratuitous eye candy that could sometimes get in the way of a user. The free form expression of skins also necessitated that users re-learn a new UI every time they switched to a new theme. Though flawed, skins showed an excitement that now seems gone in the our world of flat-UI.




Technical Level


  • Interfaces for the Modern User
  • Open Data