Skimmer is a design-focused new Adobe AIR application from Minneapolis Ad Agency Fallon. Part of a broader push for the company in revamping its image online, Skimmer is a very functional lifestream aggregator and media browser in its own right. Skimmer pulls feeds from Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Blogger and YouTube, and allows posting to Twitter, Flickr and YouTube as well. But focusing on the underpinnings of this application would be doing it an injustice - it's got a handsome face, and that's the point.
If you read Douglas Bowman's reasons for leaving Google recently, you may have an idea about the difference between a data-driven and a design-driven approach. The former focuses primarily on making information (or data) more organized, manageable, and available. All noble goals, but the resulting interface may be lacking in those things that humans find elegant, practical or perhaps even visually appealing. To most people, the difference may be trifling: If something works, it doesn't necessarily have to look pretty. But high design has appeal too, it has historically been tied to high value and luxury. The differences are easy to spot if you know where to look; for example, compare a Bang & Olufsen CD player to a Sony mini component system. The B&O system stands out (both visually and in price) due to the simple application of design. Luxury cars and expensive office buildings also benefit from design studies.
Let's get back to Skimmer, now with our eyes open to the design side. We can mention that it's not extremely fast, that it lacks the ability to re-tweet, that the icons are small and somewhat mysterious, and that (in some modes) it takes up a large amount of screen real-estate. But those qualms are almost beside the point when you consider that it is presenting information from multiple sources in a way that has never been realized before. In fact, I am guessing the designers were going for the word unprecedented. The tile-based layout, the unique font that is both modern and legible, the smooth updates from one mode to another all belie a careful attention to detail that is all too often lacking on other tools in their haste to support everything under the sun.
We mentioned that Fallon is releasing Skimmer along with a broader image push, and you can see this on their site. Each page carries over the same tile-based concept, cross-fading slideshow effects and generous space given to text areas. You might think all this design work is a waste of time, but think about the last time you saw the 'future crime' interface in Minority Report. You were impressed, right? I can guarantee you, that interface was not conceived as data-driven. It's pure, unadulterated design work.