Designing for New & Maturing Tech – 2016 Edition

Mobile, web, and interactive design has matured a lot since last year. This is driven by tech that has become open to developers. Voice, Wearables, IoT, Auto, and TV have become the focus of most major technology companies in 2016.  This has sparked a fury of new ideas around the future of apps and how they fit into our daily lives. With these technologies, the design standards have also become refined and standardized. Users have come to expect a premier experience on whatever platform they are using. In this post we will highlight a few of the new and exciting trends and how design is leading the charge.

TV

Apple says that the future of TV is apps, and they look to be right. Content providers are already offering stand-alone mobile apps. These apps allow users to watch pre-recorded and stream live content to current subscribers. Yet the move to stand-alone paid subscription apps seems to be imminent with the growing adoption of new set-top solutions. Apple TV, Google TV/Chromecast, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV are ensuring that the next wave of apps will be arriving in our living rooms.

Designing for the TV isn’t as simple as expanding your existing UI. Careful consideration must be taken to not overwhelm, complicate, or confuse the users. TV use is more about consumption that interaction. So navigation, input, and status are of top priority to their experience. With great size, comes great responsibility. Just because there is now a huge screen to work with, this doesn’t mean it needs to be full of content. Designers need to think about what is important for each screen, then try masking extra content through scrolling or paging. Searching and input controls should also be concise and use voice as a secondary driver. This is because keyboard-less text input can be confusing and cumbersome. Make your selections obvious. Utilize differences in size and depth on lists and collection views, which are becoming a standard UI pattern.

Smartwatches / Wearables

Smart watches have been around for a while now, but the release of the Apple Watch last year pushed them into the mainstream. These personal devices pair with the phone in your pocket to do most of the heavy lifting. They have seen great adoption in health and fitness, as they can give users a quick overview of their status. They are also a great communication tool, as they can use voice as an input without touching your phone.

Designing for smartwatches presents some unique challenges due to their size and processing power. A good metric when thinking about wearable interactions: computer interactions are measured in hours, phone interactions in minutes, and watch interactions in seconds. When designing the UI & UX we are presenting information for fast consumption. This means light on text, heavy on contrast, and quick on impression. Paired with machine learning, we can pre-populate replies to make these interactions fast. Apple recently introduced draw-to-type on the new WatchOS2, which should make custom inputs easier.

Voice-Operated Assistants

Can you say ‘OK Siri’, ‘Hi Cortana’, and ‘OK Google’? These old, yet recently enhanced voice operated assistants are going to be a game changer in years to come. As the tech giants open up these APIs to developers, users are going to expect to be able to interact with all their apps utilizing voice. Pair this with machine learning and see how fast these will be adopted in the mainstream. Messaging apps have seen bots come into popularity this year. Facebook’s Messenger, Google’s Allo, and Slack’s Chat are integrating automated bots onto their platforms. These allow users to issue voice or text commands to quickly perform common interactions.

Designing for voice interactions has more to do with experience and usability than UI. Understanding how users interact with your product is essential in adding voice onto your apps. This allows designers to know where it is important to integrate these new voice interactions in the most effect way. Voice features need to be easy to find and use. The UI must respond when prompted, waiting, and presenting information. These visual responses can be an opportunity to incorporate simplified design elements.

IoT

The Internet of Things is becoming a booming business. It seems everyone is racing to integrate connected devices into their lives, homes, and businesses. Garter Inc. forecasts there will be 6.4 billion connected devices in use this year, reaching over 20 billion by 2020. Chip manufacturing is at an all-time high and costs continue to shrink. We face a future where anything can become connected, and we can interact with devices we already own.  This is a really exciting time to be looking at IoT. A time where apps will help shape the landscape of the future.

Designing for the Internet of Things requires working with new technologies and services. We need them to read, parse, and collect the data where we can use it meaningfully. Designing the UI and experience around IoT means allowing users to understand and interact with their data in meaningful ways. IoT makes us think about the physical world as well. How will the devices look, what materials will they use, and how will they make us feel?

Material Design & Android UI

Google hit their new design standard out of the park. Building off of previous flat design trends they added depth, a splash of color, and exciting interactions. This created a beautiful environment for users, with a common visual aesthetic. Material Design can be found in all Google apps and is quickly making it’s way across the web. Google also created a huge design guideline. This allows anyone to learn how to design beautiful apps, all supported through earlier versions of Android.

We have also seen the new Android OS’s adopt many iOS-centric UI conventions. Android has gotten bottom tab bars, capability-based permissions, and bottom sheets.  This is great for designers and for users as the look and feel, navigation, and deign approach is more unified. This also allows designers more time to focus on the experience as opposed to the different conventions of each platform.

Conclusion

Designing for these new and maturing platforms is getting easier and faster every year. As interactive designers, we have the ability to use, touch, and incorporate one or more of these techniques into almost any project we work on. Staying on top of these technologies and approaches to design is key to helping your users better understand the apps you build.

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Murphy O'Rourke

Murphy O'Rourke

UI & UX Designer – Mobile Practice