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The fascination with tubes, or pipes, was introduced to the digital realm with the 1993 release of Windows NT. Included in the OS was what would become one of its most enduring designs, the "3D Pipes" screensaver, which would remain in the OS until Windows XP. This hypnotic screensaver was etched into the minds of everyone who used PCs in those days, at home, at work or in school.
It should be no surprise that today, as a generation of students who grew up with the screensaver are now entering the design workforce, these aesthetics are seeing a resurgence.
This pipes aesthetic has periodically found its way into the broader visual environment, like in the 2012 brand system for Architecture PLB, by SEA Design.
A handful of postmodern designers have used this sort of technique in their designs, like Rafaël Rozendaal, with his 2014 net-art website, Slick Quick.
On the whole, pipes have largely stayed a subcultural motif, something you might find on a teenage Tumblr blog, or on a Vaporwave or Seapunk album cover, alongside an ironic marble statue.
Ever the design powerhouse, Facebook has picked up on the vacuum of postmodern aesthetics and is now attempting to fill it. The chosen delivery mechanism for the pipes is their trendy new chatbot, Facebook M.
Facebook M bears some similarity to Musixmatch brand, which was designed in 2014. Musixmatch's logo is quite clever, in that it integrates the "X" and "M" of their name into a monogram. On the other hand, Facebook M's resemblance to an "X" bears no meaning.
Most interesting among the pipes in Facebook M is the exciting new set of emoji included in the app. For the Facebook designers and their project partners at design agency Collins, it was extremely important to provide a new and meaningless emoji for users to grapple with after waiting hours for feedback from the Facebook M bot.
This introduction was quite timely, as studies have shown that the state of communication with emoji is already quite confusing for users. We could surely count on Facebook to escalate that confusion to new heights–in style.
According to M designer, Jeremy Goldberg,
we've been thinking about how to improve M's ability to express personality, delight and empathy. We came up with a new set of stickers - just for M to use - that help amplify M's range of emotion when communicating.
Many commenters were unsure what emotion was being communicated in the spaghetti. Goldberg had his own explanation: "it's for rare times when M experiences some technical difficulties."
But Goldberg appears to be alone in this understanding. Consider what happens when you ask M itself what the emoji means:
There's no specific meaning, just something to share with you!
The team was quite successful in their misdirection–even for M itself, the emoji is devoid of meaning.
When I posted the icon on Twitter, a reader responded,
I feel stupid though because I don't know what the twisty one you tweeted is supposed to represent.
Silly user! He should have known postmodern aesthetics aren't meant to communicate anything–let alone represent something.
The technorati were quite impressed–they know better. Gumroad CEO Sahil Lavingia's was quite curious to learn who was responsible for this excellence in design:
Who's idea was this? Genius!
If you are still perplexed at the meaning of the emoji, let alone how a team of internal Facebook designers, a team of agency designers at Collins, a Facebook PM, a director and perhaps an executive let this ship, you simply don't understand the future of design. For how else could it be the dystopian future envisioned by Facebook without the intentional inclusion of meaningless postmodern cliché?