21st November 2011

What’s the future of Interaction design?

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Watch: Productivity Future Vision (2011)

Let me introduce this post by stating that I love interacting with digital media, be it owning the devices themselves or by walking around digital conventions and electronic high street stores. I’ve owned some great products and some not so great; from an iPad, Android and iPhone’s, handheld consoles, Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move to name a few.

When I was younger my first memory of an interface was watching Minority Report. I watched Tom Cruise use his hands to literally control time, angles, zooms, move windows, search databases and other complex operations at blistering speed and accuracy. I remember looking at my PC and wondering if only. My other main memory was visiting arcades and playing on the varied games available. I’ve played maracas, rowed a dingy through white water, sliced fruit, shot zombies with every gun imaginable and even danced in time to the Vengaboys.

What I expected to see as a kid

What I expected to see as a kid

So, if you were to ask me back then, is the iPad or any other tablet for instance, an interface fit for our future? My answer would be: “no”, however it is getting there.

My problem is that this vision, from an interaction perspective, isn’t fully implemented. All too often it can feel like a small improvement from when I was a young teenager struggling through a touch screen interface to order some train tickets.

Therefore how do we improve what we currently have? Firstly lets start with the positive and then discuss the potential problems and how to avoid them becoming issues for the user.

In terms of the navigation and gestures, using your fingers to interact with a device, helps create a natural, responsive and enjoyable experience. The ability to turn pages, zoom into images and scroll through content for example, helps the user feel more involved and adds an element of intrigue as the user interacts with the content. Everyday we manipulate objects in a vast array of different ways, therefore new and creative ways to use natural gestures, will ultimately allow us to easily complete more complicate tasks with ease.

Sorting photos into albums is now a breeze

Sorting photos into albums is now a breeze

Therefore with gestures, responsive touch screen technology and creative designers, why can’t a slick, complex Minority Report style interface be designed?

Well it can, however it wouldn’t be useable in the slightest. The reason why can be summed up in two key points.

Firstly and most importantly is the lack of standards throughout the user experience. If you access the App store or Android Market, the wealth of different developers can be overwhelming. The issue is that each of these has a different vision and visual style of how we should interact with our devices. For example I can swipe through stories on BBC News however this isn’t possible on Sky Sports News. What looks like a button in one application, isn’t in the other and built in functionality differs greatly.

Secondly is the visual clash of styles between an app and the Internet. A web page is designed to be rich and commonly an ‘over-stuffed’ experience compared to iPad’s sparse and regulated environment. Therefore the difference in content means that navigation in one instance, is fit for purpose, however in the other is found to be completely lacking.

Therefore an interface that encompasses a ‘one size fits all’ mentality, with unusual functions and interaction à la Minority Report simply isn’t feasible. With so many developers and the contrast between content, flexibility within the interface is crucial, along with simplicity. The key is to ultimately design for different platforms and to utilise existing standards that everyone accepts and knows. To quote Jakob Nielsen, a usability expert; “Future advances have to be built upon the existing foundations, even if they aren’t perfect”.