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A Vertical Perspective, Part 1

What a horizontal world we live in. Our books are read from left to right, long gone is the long scroll of parchment. Our personal vehicles take us forward and backward without difficulty. We’re constantly disappointed as children with things that should stay up in the air and yet fall prey to gravity which pulls them back to Earth. These are all things that may have contributed to the mundanity that is our workspaces of horizontal orientation.

My monitors throughout the years never strayed from that as well. It’s not like I had any opportunity, given the limitations of my hardware at the time. You can’t tilt iMacs unless you specifically order them with a VESA mount. Regardless, if I plugged in a separate monitor (like the beautiful Dell monitor I use at work) System Preferences would present the option to rotate my display 90°.

It seemed like a dare, almost. As if the Display preferences of the Mac were saying “yeah, here’s an option I bet you’ll never use,” while snickering along with other unused counterparts.

It’s not a completely foreign feature, as much as I make it seem, considering that shopping malls, hotels, even casinos use vertical monitors for displaying ads, maps, general information and whatnot. Their usage has increased on a steady pace, and it always ignites some form of curiosity, but never any sense of urgent desire. After all, these were all being used for display purposes — not for real interaction on a daily basis.

So even with the idea being out there in various forms, it never came to me to go vertical. That is, until I realized something fundamental one day.

In my line of work, there are two dueling mentalities. The playful one of design and construction, and the responsible side of research and planning. I may sway more to the design side of things first (because I just love to play and experiment) but I do rely on my research to stay proactive. I used one monitor for each part of my work and both in the same orientation. I worked this way for three months and never had much of an issue. Nothing was bothering me about the horizontal workspace besides an excessive amount of scrolling.

On one particular day, however, the feeling of conformity was creeping ever slowly into my consciousness. The rectilinear glare of my screens was starting to broadcast a stale hue. It was like a window back to my old backyard which was surrounded by a white fence, and I was running around the edge, tracing the perimeter. And in doing a lap I’d be skipping over the same unburied root of the tree and the same patch of dead grass that was there the day before and the day before that. The exertion of running started to be less annoying than that stupid, brown patch of dead grass always being there. The seasons changed slowly, yet I still found myself running around that perimeter, avoiding the unburied root of the tree and the brown patch of dead grass. That kind of conformity.

It was at this point in the day that I decided to take a breather for a couple of minutes. This required getting up, walking around, getting some water, leaning against an abandoned wall, and pulling out my phone to reanimate the near-dead parts of my brain. On this particular day, something was realized from the act of pulling my phone out of my pocket and into my hand. I held my phone in front of my face. My super capable phone.

My vertically oriented, button-void iPhone.

There it had been all this time (since 2007, anyway), a vertical display in my hands that made the width of the columns just right for extremely legible type. Very much in the style of a laid out newspaper, the most comforting to the eye allowing no more than ten words across in a column. The optimal way to read; it truly is. What a delight it was to read lengthy text with the simple flick of a finger to scroll. And if I was using the “Reader” feature (which I usually was), it would be uninterrupted. What a relief it was!

I came back to my desk after my time on the phone and realized that I wasn’t happy with how I was using my research monitor. A horizontal grid of bright pixels used strictly for browsing the web and writing emails had no mandate to stay horizontal. This is especially true after considering that it wasn’t like me to need a web browser and an email client on screen at the same time. If anything, when I would design something in my horizontal world, I would need tools scattered everywhere just so things weren’t more than a few clicks away. Browsing, reading, and even writing didn’t require this much attentiveness. I decided to take the dare with those preferences and shift 90° for good. Just to make things interesting.

Soon: Part 2 – The Adjustment Period

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