This article seems to completely miss the point of design.
Design is not art, particularly as it relates to UI. Interfaces are built to bridge a need with a solution: the ATM, the calculator, elevator buttons and screens.
The reason we have trends in UI design is not because someone, somewhere, thought a really cool and fancy effect would be just what the user needed. No, trends are trends because they serve a need.
When Apple first released the iPhone they used the then-popular skeuomorphism style because they knew many people using the device wouldn't understand what made something a button vs. not. A texture, shadow, and lighting helped remedy that concern.
Now, some 11+ years after the first iPhone we see "flat" design in UIs as trendy. That's for a reason: the technology we use is now ingrained in much of our day-to-day life, we no longer need things in the screen to look like a button in order to know "Hey, I can tap this."
Timeless design certainly serves a place, but your goal as a designer shouldn't be to create something that's "timeless" or "trendy" but instead just design for the problem at-hand. That's all that matters.
Just want to say that I like your Avatar.
If you can create something that is both functional and timeless, I can hardly see the downside of it. It’s not a question of being art or not.
If you hire an architect to plan your house, you wouldn’t want it to be something that would need to be completely reworked five years later. Ideally, he would plan something that would be as timeless as possible.
Design adapts to progress, as you’ve made clear with the iPhone example, but regarding websites, it’s possible to keep it as simple (and functional) as possible to favor its longevity.
In sum, I hardly disagree that the article misses the point of design.
I don't know exactly where I stand on the point of design, but I'm not sure that architecture and interior design is quite the right fit for the idea behind that example.
Architecture absolutely has trends. Tastes in style, paint colorings, window size, number of floors and position and size of various rooms, flooring treatments, furniture and appliances, it all fluctuates quite significantly.
The trends and styles that go in and out of fashion do tend to last longer than those of UI Design, but I wonder whether that would hold true if it was as easy to redesign a house and buy all new furniture as it was to redesign a site or an app.
I think this is pretty spot on, but I think technology plays an ever bigger role than you suggest.
How can UI design be timeless if the technology that it depends on is not timeless? The examples in this article are independent of any particular technology — anything that can render line and color can render a classic Swiss design. But digital UI depends on a very specific rendering engines, operating systems, input/output devices, and other very non-timeless things. (Although I will concede that some digital UIs last a lot longer than you might expect.) If you attempt to load a product from 15 years ago, I'd bet the visual style of the UI is not what will give you trouble.
We're saying the same thing.
Have I already said that I like your avatar?
Your avatar is 1px thinner on the right side than the left (yellow line).
This upsets me
I must say I'm disappointed. Was expecting that this would trigger a lot of people. So far just have one complaint.
It seems the world is not as OCD as I though it was...
I partly agree. Yes, a web product from 15 years ago will be outdated. But the design of digital products today is not at the same level of maturity that it was by then.
Some UX patterns are more mature now. People are also more educated regarding how to use digital products.
I truly believe that it is now possible to design something a digital product today that we'll need minor adjustments and still work well 15 years from now.
Well, I was actually trying to say that any digital UI is probably going to be broken in 15 years due to outdated databases, old OSes, broken links, forgotten languages, and unpaid server bills unless it has been maintained along the way.
So if the backend technology itself is not timeless — how can the UI be timeless? Why would we want it to be timeless?
The premise of this article necessitates that software exist in some kind of stasis, but it can't.
Let’s put it this way. How old is Java?
I agree with the bottom line, but I think there needs to be a distinction between visual style (which the article discusses) and design.
Design does not exist on its own or for itself. To design is to serve a purpose. The notion of timeless design is then in fact a function of how well the designed object achieves its intended purpose, and for how long. A brand, product, or service that can successfully remain or evolve to be relevant and useful for long periods of time will be viewed as timeless. Visual style alone can never be timeless because to divorce it from its context is to isolate it from its usefulness. It is then left as an artifact of the ever-changing cycle of visual trends. Conversely, any style can achieve some level of timelessness if it is part of a thoughtful and principled system (brand, product, service, etc).
So, it is counterproductive to think of design only as a visual style. Form does not have to follow function, but function will always have an edge on form. It is this difference where visual style drives and falls from the trend cycle, and ultimately where function wins out.
…the way to longevity is to step away from trends and look at what has been done that has lasted.
To expand on this sentiment, it is more important to look at why what has lasted, has lasted. Consider the context of how, where and who uses it; how it all fits together; and how effectively it achieves its purpose. Designing for longevity requires constant evolution—you cannot set out to design something timeless, set it and forget it. For designs that remain to be considered "timeless" and have not changed over long periods of time, it is likely that the need has not changed either, so it is able still achieve the purpose it designed for. Timeless design is achieved through consistently and effectively fulfilling the need of purpose. If you do this, you can make it look however you want.