Future of Interfaces

DesignReviver (via @blogblog) has compiled a categorial list of aspects that drive future UI development:

  • Better and more intuitive devices interaction
  • Everyday devices connected to the Internet
  • Multi-touch, without touching the screen
  • Interactive and intuitive user interfaces for better browsing
  • Gesture based interfaces
  • Interfaces aware of context
  • New materials that will influence UI

While I agree with the list in general there is something I do not like about it: this list is purely determined by technological advances.

We will see changes in almost all areas of society: how we shop, how we love, how we go about politics, what we regard as value, etc.

So I add some other (very speculative and spontaneous) ideas that are not so much based of the hardware innovation:

  • Laws that require users have ideal control over privacy issues (hopefully!)
  • Programmable operating systems on any device with good scurity
  • Redundant storage on different locations that “logically cloud together” in a personal and searchable environment
  • Working culture that permits more work “on the road” as before (specifically regarding the social aspects involved in this)
  • Affordable plans for wireless connectivy and low-priced roaming
  • Architectural advances that integrate media and new display/projection technologies into the interior environments

Design for discovery

One of the most interesting topics for information architecture is search. There are ways to find, explore, browse and discover things in digital domains. The value of information increases with the possibility of being found. So design for findability becomes the most important strategy to increase the value of information.

One of the distinct experts in the field of Information Architecture is Peter Morville. He gave an interesting one-hour talk at Google about »Ambient Findability and the Future of Search«:

He talks a lot about the problem of search in general (he is speaking at a search engine company). How to enable better search and findability is a question of a) metadata and b) representation.

It is the representation aspect of searching and finding, that is still a huge area for design innovations. While improving the Google search result page may be too difficult, there are a lot of very specific problems where searching and navigating an information domain gets a very interesting and particular design issue.

A designer needs a good understanding of the fact that users have different approaches of locating things depending on

  • the nature of the information,
  • the structure and relations,
  • the quantity of data,
  • their habit of solving things systematically and
  • the prior knowledge about the domain.

Naturalism vs. explicitness

There constantly is a discussion about making the computer feel more “natural” to the user. I do think that this approach led to the graphical user interface we are all used to today and it is philosophically the right approach to deal with technology. But I also do believe technology is not yet ready to allow “natural” interaction in most occasions.

If you don’t believe me this video will hopefully bring this discussion to an end:

And don’t miss this Second Life parody:

UI Design and market success

UI Design and market success

While researching some information about user interfaces for video sharing websites I stumbled over a statement in an article at news.com by Alonso Vera of NASA Ames Research:

»Design is starting to change who succeeds and who fails. A few years ago that wasn’t true. If I had a better algorithm, I would win!«

I had a conversation about this yesterday. Users are fed up with lousy interfaces. Whenever I do a research into a UI field – mobile phones, websites, software applications – I run into these strange situations, that the user is left alone with an error message and litterally no practical advice what to do. It really baffles me, that obvious pitfalls are left open until release of the software or product and kept unadressed for month if not years. So if Design comes a market driver, that is a very good sign!

Example: If you are a Macintosh Users (and some are indeed) and you go to hi5.com – a music/video community website with 50 million users (!) and you want to upload a video file (one of the core features), you will be presented with a form where you can enter title, tags and category for your video. Fine.

Screenshot of a Hi5.com blooper

But after clicking you will see this error screen (above) telling you that someone named VideoEgg (What by the way do they have to do with it?) does not support the browser you are using and that you need to go to videoegg.com to check a list of supported browsers.

While I wondered that I was not presented with that list (or at least a link to that list) directly (Again when were Hyperlinks introduced to the World Wide Web??), I almost got angry after unsuccsessfully trying to find such a list anywhere on the proposed site. Remember: Hi5.com claims to serve 50 million users!

I took me half an hour to try all browsers available on my system – costing me time and quite some nerves AND money. And the effect of this really obvious and simple UI problem: I won’t give hi5.com a second shot on me or recommend that site.

What does that mean? Maybe the “web 2.0” market is one where idiots happyily buy stuff from slightly smarter idiots?

Multi-touch screens

Tobias Jordans pointed to a new astonishing video of a 8-by-3 inch two-panel multi-touch sensitive wall mounted screen:

The video makes evident, that the interaction feels continuous and natural. And since Apple has shown with the iPhone that multi-touch can improve small interfaces as well, I think this technology could replace the mouse one day.

There as an article at Fastcompany.com stating that Jefferson Han was already approached by media companies and intelligence agencies to partner.

Update: There is also a short presentation in February 2006 by Jeff Han on The TED 2006 conference.

Leopard preview

Leopard preview

Keynote presentations from the WWDC are always very entertaining to watch – even though the author of this Wired article thinks the presentation was uninspiring. I don’t think so.

The business numbers were impressive. Apple sales and market share is growing. That is a change. Apple always had a small market share. The machines were said to be unstable, expensive and slow. Gimmicks for design geeks and fashion victims. I think this image changes. The hardware is top notch, capable of runing Windows if needed and comes with a very robust operating system and pre-installed software. The other applications of Apple are offered at fair prices. The new machines are priced very aggressiveley. Apple is now offering the best price/performance ratio for those that want to run Windows (see this blog post). The Mac Pro is a bargain.

The only thing I found pretty low during the Keynote was the Vista bashing. I takes more to compete with the market leader than picking few screenshots and claim Microsoft is ripping off MacOS X. This kind of “comparative marketing” is lousy.

But in any case people have to admit that Apple does in fact innovate. If Time Machine is as easy to use as it seems, this really a breakthrough to fight loss of data on your drives.

The new feature I personally like most is iChat 4. It now allows lecturers to give live presentations to remote audiences with Keynote. Lecturers could be invited to give presentations without the need to travel to remote places. This is very attractive for higher education.

Screenshot of iChat 4.0 showing remote presentation with Keynote

How wonderful it would be if a presenter could stream this video to a QuickTime Streaming Server for viewing by a large audience?



Tim and Simon from send|recieve presented a verly early alpha version of Mnemomap one week ago on the Webmontag event in Cologne (which happened to be the first one in Cologne I couldn’t attend). I am sure they’d love anyone to try Mnemomap and drop some feedback about it.

Screenshot of Mnemomap

The About page states:

mnemomap is a new way to search the internet. It combines technologies of social networking, search engines and other data sources to help you formulate search queries and find really relevant information.

The JavaScript Accessibility Problem

James Edwards from Sitepoint.com looks at AJAX and Screenreaders:

There doesn’t appear to be any reliable way to notify screen readers of an update in the DOM. There are piecemeal approaches that work for one or more devices, but no overall approach or combination that would cover them all.

The Mozilla Developer Center offers some information on the work IBM is doing in this area: Accessible DHTML. Also the W3C is working in a design for making dynamic web content accessible one day.

Mighty Mouse not so mighty

Tim Bruysten forgot his »Apple Mighty Mouse« after his presentation on Web Monday meet-up. I took it with me to hand it back to him later. I am using it now. And I have to say: I don’t like it.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, but generally the absence of physical feedback for the three different “buttons” requires the user to get that from the visual/acoustic feedback on screen. The presence of two more buttons is not visible and not haptic. So it remains a mental concept.

It is a nice object to explicate the notion of affordance.