Transparency in Design


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November 18th, 2009    

While driving Speer Boulevard in downtown Denver this past week, I noticed a trending architectural design feature that has been growing steadily in the past decades, and not just in Denver but around the world. Glass.

Glass Half-Building?

More and more buildings are being constructed with glass as a primary exterior. In Denver, the Glass House, the Spire, the Colorado Convention Center to even the new Science Building on the Auraria Campus all rely heavily on glass. The dramatic increase in the number of high rises and large-scale city projects that are using glass a in their design begs the question, what does this transformation means to the world of design and to us as people living in this designed world?

Auraria Science Building from Speer Blvd. in Denver

Auraria Science Building from Speer Blvd. in Denver

Here is a list of potential benefits for choosing and exterior composed of glass:

  1. Lets in natural light, which may decrease energy use for lighting.
  2. Allows the space to feel larger, more open.
  3. May be cheaper to produce, but it may be more expensive to insulate.
  4. Allows the buildings exterior and interior to be constantly changing from the lighting.
  5. Connects those inside with what is happening outside.
  6. Permits the outsider a more intimate view of what is happening inside.
  7. Satisfies our innate voyeurism of curiosity.
  8. Pushes for transparency in infrastructure and activity

The Web is No Different

Apple aqua button

Apple aqua button

In 2001, Apple publicly introduced their latest operation system, OS X and with it their unveiled one of the most captivating and copied interface elements, the glass button, known more properly as the Aqua effect. (See 10m results in Google Image Search and countless web tutorials on the effect.)

This might have been the first mass “visual” indication of the web’s movement towards transparency, but it has been a long time in coming.

Dating back perhaps to the early days of the internet, when the original design wasn’t ecommerce and pay-per-click campaigns but the sharing of knowledge and information. Why duplicate some intense and tireless research when a study just like yours was being completed on a fellow university’s campus? The transparency of information mushroom-clouded into one of the largest easter egg hunts in human history. To this day, we are still attempting to digitize, encode, log, process and analyze every piece of available data, past, present and future.

The internet offered us the opportunity to publicly display and connect what was happening internally to an external audience, necessary (email, medical records)  or not (personal credit identity, most of twitter). This transparency has changed how we see and thus interact with the world.

Transparent Future

The future may never be transparent from the present view, but this current trend is only going to grow. There is a rise in OnDemand services. There is a push for try-before-you-buy (see GM’s lastest 60 day return policy). There is a demand for faster data access and improved data architecture. There is a desire for one’s online life to stream easily and securely between devices, applications and databases.

Business and life going forward will more effectively consider and offer thoughtful relationships that transcend data and functionality but extend greater personal connectivity that enhances our internet world experience.

So, in tribute to legendary anchorman, Ron Burgandy, “You Stay Glassy, Denver.”

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