The beginning of a new year is always a great time for looking forward to what’s coming up next – including challenges and opportunities, emerging trends, and new technologies. Here at Comrade we live, eat, drink, and breathe the user experience every day, so it’s only natural that we’d focus our New Year’s observations and predictions on UX.
All of these developments will have impacts that cut across industries, but some spaces will see profound change. Here are Comrade’s three predictions for what will happen in the world of UX in 2016.
As designer and author Dan Saffer says in his book Microinterations, “The difference between a good product and a great one are its details: the microinteractions that make up the small moments inside and around features.”
The concept of microinteractions is nothing new, but with the proliferation of devices and small form factors (such as watches and other wearables) they’re changing the user experience from a “session” that begins and ends to a more or less unbroken stream of brief, subtle interactions with data and information. It’s these “small moments” that create a richer user experience.
This applies not only to devices delivering data, but to those collecting it. In fact, the interactions may become so vanishingly subtle as to be almost imperceptible to the user. Our locations, physical telemetry, and transactions are already assiduously tracked, but even explicit data sharing will become something we do without noticing it thanks to touches, gestures, and even our own natural movements. Think Fitbit, but everywhere.
Is it a laptop, a tablet, a phablet, or a smart phone? Who can tell? Touchscreen laptops, devices like the Microsoft Surface, and similar products continue to remove the distinctions between device types. Phones are getting bigger…or are tablets getting smaller?
And just when people have pretty much decided that their phones were their preferred way of keeping time, Apple starts selling a watch that will take over many of the phone’s functions. This trend will continue as the meaning of the interactions moves from the devices themselves to the connections between them and the things they enable.
Probably the most dramatic example of these blurred lines is Samsung’s new smart refrigerator. The Family Hub refrigerator will allow you to display family photos and calendars on a 21-inch display embedded in the door, and peek inside from elsewhere via your smart phone to see if you need milk or eggs. It will even let you order groceries via a special app and pay for them via a credit partnership with MasterCard.
Until recently, voice enablement on our devices was largely defined by people yelling at their phones in frustration. But there’s a lot less shouting now that voice-activation features like Siri and OK Google are starting to work well. Voice-enabled texting, email, and dialing are taking hold in situations such as driving, where our hands and eyes should be directed elsewhere. Whether our attention is up to the task is another question, but the trend is clear: we want to stay connected even when we can’t type or tap.
Audio interfaces and voice commands are one facet of this, but there’s also an opportunity for haptic interfaces – those that communicate via the sense of touch – to transform how we connect to the digital world. Examples of this have been around for a couple of years. The NorthPaw compass is worn around your ankle so you always know which way you’re facing. Lechal’s haptic shoes aid the visually impaired in safely navigating without a cane. But both of these required dedicated hardware.
As wearable tech becomes more open and fundamental, these UIs are getting better, more prevalent, and more common. Now there’s even an app that combines yelling and haptic communication. Focus actually shouts at you if you pick up your phone and look at it while driving. “Eyes on the road, chief!”
What all of these predictions have in common is that they’re continuing the expansion and diffusion of the digital space into our everyday lives. Think about how far we’ve come since the internet revolution started a little over two decades ago. Now the objective is not just to incorporate more digital technology into our daily lives, but for that technology to evolve from islands of disparate activity and applications to a seamless user experience that’s rich, intuitive, useful, and unobtrusive.