After having explored the notions of tools (2017), then the sorting and display of data (2018), for its third issue, Back Office proposes an examination of onscreen reading and writing interfaces. Even though matrices of backlit pixels dominate our daily lives, strangely enough, there are only a few texts which, from the perspective of design practices, examine the utilitarian, cognitive, semantic and sensitive issues surrounding them. Media theorist Vilém Flusser has been analyzing technologies of alphanumeric encoding since the 1970s (this issue includes one of his unpublished texts, written in French). Notwithstanding, these technologies have been at the heart of profound sociopolitical upheavals whose extent we have yet to measure, as shown by the recent controversies on the role that screens should play when learning to write.
In the first place, it is well and truly language that is affected. This human faculty to cut up and categorize the world, one without which communication is impossible, is now couched in layers of technology: that of digital programs (“formal languages”), whose complexity threatens one’s capacity to read their operation, and accordingly, their consequences. Writing the Screen is as much about the structuring of source codes (comprehending its techniques), as it is about the negotiating of their emergence into the visible. As predicted by philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1990s, the “retreat from paper” as a primary medium of writing opens the way to forms of expression that amount to an “expanded graphosphere,” where paper norms and figures nevertheless continue to dominate.
The interface, this fine membrane whose conception habitually falls to the lot of designers, thus becomes the cristallization of all these paradoxes. How can one write intelligibly for the screen? What will become of graphic design—this expertise in the formalization of the visible—when it operates as a translation between “screen writings” and the reading of these transformations? During this period of technical transitions, will the task of designers be to support this superposition, or to strive to “leave paper behind”?