Split screen visuals are nothing new to many of you. Anyone who grew up in the ’80s or ’90s surely experienced a weekend glued to a TV playing Nintendo games with their friends on a split screen, occasionally peeking to their friend’s quadrant and comparing what they’re seeing to what you are. They were a staple of TV shows in the ’60s and ’70s, for example, showing both sides of a telephone conversation or two simultaneous reactions.
In gaming, split screen has largely gone to the wayside, favouring the ability to commit all of the computing power to a single player’s perspective. But that doesn’t mean split screen is gone for good. In TV and movies, split screen is generally viewed these days as “cheesy” and is rarely used unless cheesiness is the desired effect. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does this perfectly.
Parisian director Alexandre Courtes has taken the medium and shown the remarkable potential of split screen visuals to juxtapose different objects, actions, and emotions in this music video from Cassius, featuring Pharrell Williams and Cat Power, titled “Go Up.”
The music video is certainly unique enough to warrant discussion and is open to interpretation, as is any true form of art. It is part social commentary, part visceral imagery, and part exploration of the human condition.
Split screen visuals in IT
Divvying up screen real estate is just a fact of life in IT. When it comes to productivity, using every pixel of a screen is a simple way to get more out of what you’ve already got. For example, Windows 7 added the ability to drag a window to the side of the screen to have it fill half, letting users quickly open up two windows side-by-side, great for reading in one window and taking notes in another.
Dual monitor workstations are becoming more common, as well, with the dual-screen approach providing the benefit of much-needed additional screen space and making it easier to organize the digital workspace as two unique, physical boxes. Few applications are explicitly designed for being used on dual screens, at most being able to compartmentally move pieces of an application around.
Double the screen, double the UX bonus
From a user experience standpoint, this can quickly become annoying—especially when working in confined digital workspaces, like a laptop with a single display. Opening up additional windows means sacrificing space for menus, scroll bars, and more. On mobile, split screen is only supported by certain apps, providing limited multitasking ability and minimizing the potential use cases. Think about it: How many times a day do you find yourself switching back and forth between app windows on your phone just trying to do one thing? A better question: How often do you have to use several apps at once to complete one objective?
When it comes to productivity, humans are generally best at doing one thing at a time. Think task switching instead of explicitly multitasking. But this isn’t to say that split-screen visuals are to be avoided. “Go Up” highlights the mind’s ability to take information from two relatively different sources and combine them to get a given result.
UX design stands to learn a lot from this. Apps are generally designed to optimize their specific workflow, letting the operating system provide the customization and flexibility needed for the user to combine that workflow with another. Given that an app generally only excels at a few select things, this approach makes sense. You don’t need a web browser in your word processor when it’s inferior to your actual web browser of choice.
Solving for pain points
In the case of monitoring software, split screen is absolutely critical. To adequately monitor a single computer or a vast network of VMs and servers, you need a place to put a lot of graphs, alerts, and data streams, and to do so in a way that doesn’t prohibit you from seeing any important information. Some websites are taking to the trend of floating media players. This concept lets you scroll down through an article while the video embedded at the top of the page floats above and continues playing, letting you watch and listen while you read or close the video for undivided attention.
At the core of UX is customization. Split screen visuals certainly have their appeal from both UX and pragmatic standpoints, but only in certain use cases. Like how split screen is done in “Go Up,” it has to be done right.