Making Materiality- Printers

Printers are perhaps one of the most revolutionizing technologies that only express materiality, but also create it. Printers turn the imaginable and electronic into physical and material realities. Before the internet revolution, mass production of hand held devices, and portable computers, printers served a necessary role for mass information production and distribution. Printers made books, newspapers, and magazines available to the general population which not only spread media information and creative ideas, but also impacted legislation through copyright policies. Printers created the concept that “ideas” themselves could be “owned” because they could now be expressed in a physical form. In, “The Medium in the Massage” McLuhan comments on how physical ideas have shaped our society/environment. He says “The invention of printing did away with anonymity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habit of considering intellectual effort as private property” (McLuhan 125). The printer’s creation of privacy- both private ownership and private experiences of such creations, served as its primary function for many years.

However, soon society develops technological advances that can arguable change the value/role of the printer. As portable electronic devices become more and more prevalent, the necessity of a printer for private experiences and a delivery method for information becomes dwindled. Any book can be purchased and read on a laptop, Nook, iPad, or even smart phone. These devices also have access to magazines, articles, and other news. These devices even become a way for creating such ideas. For example, writing essays or blogs online. Even this current post will be documented somehow within my hard drive and electronically linked to me (ownership). So why do we still use a printer? Katherine Hayles, author of Writing Machines suggests that electronic media and print media should now be viewed as equal mediums, in terms of both reliability and authentic forms of information communication. With all this said, I however still have a undeniable feeling of security and satisfaction when I print out something and have it physically in front of me. What if my computer crashes? What if the file gets corrupted? For whatever reason I cannot bring myself to trust the electrons in my computer more than a piece of paper I can hold. Printers make this security possible by allowing us to transfer something digital into a physical form. In the article “5 Reasons We Still Have A Printer” most of the reasons dealt with high security things. Boarding passes, shipping labels, invoices, etc. All things that are highly important and demand a higher level of security/ insurance that will remain a reliable artifact and source of information. Not only do printers impact our security and assurance of things, but they also impact how we experience the media that we are viewing. Hayles suggests that the materiality of a specific medium contributes to its experience. I remember back to high school when I would scramble to finish a paper in the computer lab before the first bell would ring. In a surge of triumph, I would proudly hit the “print” button and take a victory lap to the newly awakened printer which would spit out my still warm and freshly scented paper masterpiece. Picking up that warm paper, driving a staple through it, and sticking into my backpack gave the final sense of completion and pride as I would proceed to homeroom. Here, the printer not only gave me a better sense of accomplishment, but provided me with something physical that I could better attach such feelings of pride to. Hitting the “submit” button to DropBox just doesn’t live up. Since printers transform things into a physical state, it allows multiple dimensions and complexities to be made. Art can be viewed in a closer, more personal state. It can also be expressed in a 3D (ie pop up books, origami, etc). These things need to be physical to be experienced in the way they were intended to be. A printer does such, transforming the digital into the physical.


  1. Hayles, Katherine. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.
  2.  McLuhan, Marshall-Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage 2005

Apple Changed Its Design Language in iOS 7: What Does It Mean?

Nowadays there are many sorts of electronic devices. And during recent years, the interfaces of electronic devices have changed a lot in order to offer better experience. For instance, the operation system of iPhones and iPads, iOS has been improving continuously since it was initially released in 2007. And the design of its interface gets a big change every two or three versions. The most recent significant improvement of iOS is iOS 7 (the successor of it, iOS 8 is based on the design of iOS 7 with many small modifications). If we compare iOS 7 with the previous version, iOS 6, we will find something interesting. The interface of iOS 7 looks very different from iOS 6. To explain this difference, I think we can see the various design languages: IOS 7 is based on the new design which is called “flat design”, and iOS 6 is based on another design language, skeuomorphism.

What does the change of design languages mean? By recalling the term “material metaphor” from Kathrine Hayles’ Writing Machines, I think there’s something worth discussing about the material metaphors inside the change of the design languages.

The material metaphor is about the implication of another medium which can be found in a medium, I think it shows some associations between two media. And the material metaphor can be easily found in iOS 6. The Icons and interfaces of iOS 6 remind me of many things in the real life. This design is based on skeuomorphism. For instance, while I was reading some kind of texts on some sort of background on the iPad with iOS 6, I remembered that the background of “notes” was just like a real page of a writing pad. Other icons were also similar to something which really exists. I think Apple just wants to make people feel comfortable when they are using their devices. People may say surprisingly when they find these designs: “Wow, it looks real”. People will easily get used to use their iOS devices soon because they can find many things they are familiar with. So I think that’s an important reason why iPhones and iPod are successful products. IOS 6 tried to be a skeuomorphic, and the material metaphor is just like what the “notes” shows. The “notes” actually has some features from the real writing pads.

But with the release of iOS 7, Apple started to use the flat design language. The interface isn’t based on the skeuomorphism anymore. Things in the iOS 7 give users limited material metaphors about traditional media such as notebooks. For example, with the flat designs, when people open the “reminder” in iOS 7, they will find that there’s nothing like a real page on the notebook except lines and the sequence of reading which is just like the paper notebooks. In addition, they can get another message from the design itself: you are now using an electronic device. IOS 7 has less material metaphors related to some other media like printed books. It becomes more independent as a medium with more features about itself.

By comparing iOS 6 with iOS 7, I find that many material metaphors on electronic device vanished. IOS 6 contains more material metaphors than iOS 7, in other words, the older version tried to emulate some traditional media like printed books somehow. And the newer iOS 7 tried to create an interface which emphasizes properties of electronic devices as new technologies, although there are many remaining aspects from traditional media such as the sequence of reading (that’s from printed books). I think electronic devices like iPhones will be likely to be a new kind of “traditional media” in the future. Now I can draw a short conclusion by the analysis of iOS: once a specific kind of medium owns more things about itself and less material metaphors about other media, especially some traditional media, it will be a truly independent category of media which is newly created by us.


  1. Hayles, Katherine. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002. Print.
  2. “Apple IOS 7 Review – CNET.” CNET. CNET, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.