UX/UI and Considering the Future

February 17, 2020 2 By JR

I’ve been working my way through an online course, Intro to UX/UI for the past 6 weeks now. Most of the assignments were stages in completing a project for a mock client (creating a data usage app). The final assignment is about trends and the future of UX/UI Design. We’re to pick a topic discussed in class, or one that you want to explore further on the theme.

Think about all we’ve learned about the importance of understanding the user to craft a consistent UI and an understandable UX. Use all of this, and apply it to your thinking about The Future.

As a starting point, consider: What do designers of new emerging tools need to consider when they design their product?

What do designers of new emerging tools need to consider when they design their product?

A number of new technologies, interfaces, and products were introduced in this week’s lectures. From virtual/augmented/&mixed reality, to voice user interfaces, to new apps on phones for tracking your interactions, to heads up displays in self driving cars, and the Internet of Things. I thought the example in the car about changing the interaction from a gear shifter to a turnsdial was an interesting one, although I think it violates a few of the principles Don Norman lays out in the constraints chapter in the Design of Everyday Things, mapping in particular.

I think the thread that runs through design considerations, regardless of technology, are ethics, care, and social impact. Early in the course we briefly touched on ethics, particularly in relation to dark patterns (like how it’s nearly impossible to figure out how to close your Amazon account), but I think it goes beyond dark patterns. Consider voice user interfaces. On the surface these seem like great interfaces to develop and in many ways can serve a user. If we consider the empathy map we are very closely looking at the intended user for the VUI. But we’re social creatures, so there are going to be times when there are others around. Do we as designers often consider the context to include non-users? In the case of the VUI, what does an empathy map look like for someone who is in the vicinity, who does not own the product with the VUI, and does not want their data collected? The always listening feature violates this non-user’s wishes for privacy.

Care could be taken any number of ways, I suppose today I’m thinking about inclusiveness. This ties back to the previous point a bit, how do we include the non-user or user-adjacent person in our design decisions, but also how to we ensure that our designs are inclusive? To the latter, I think providing space for user decisions and agency is one approach to use. For example, in our data usage app, we created a persona and then used divergent methods (sketching) and convergent methods (prototyping) to create one user experience. It occurs to me now at the end of the course, what if every user could select what appears on their own dashboard? Maybe the experience starts with something predetermined, but then prompts could be introduced over time to tailor the experience to each individual user. Sort of like when you go to some websites, there is a little eye icon in the top right which makes all the text much larger and better contrast just with one button, and that is up to the user.

The final topic of social impact I’m sure has connections to the UX/UI aspects of the course, but the examples I have more industrial design relevance or examples that come to mind. As an instructional designer I’m often asked by clients to develop a course to “teach x-y-z”. Anything from a basic skill to full out affective learning and development. Sometimes though, a “course” is not the best way to serve the client or the user. I think that sort of thing is mirrored in all fields of design; “We need a product to do X because Y”, or “We need an app for that” sort of approach. I’ve found this kind of thing has an uptick with each new technology that gets publicity; “We need more VR because it’s the hot new thing” or “how can we use blockchain in that?” Broadly speaking we as designers can consider what the client, user, and social needs are more broadly. Thinking about the self-driving car for example, sure that would be a really cool thing, and one that should be designed at some point. But taking a step back, and considering what problem it is looking to solve, perhaps more robust public transit systems are a cheaper, more immediate, and more effective way to achieve the goals.

Another example would be designing doorbell cameras. On the surface it seems like it might be a simple and effective tool, but the larger implications or normalizing surveillance, discrimination, and invasion of privacy of both the user and user-adjacent people (the social impacts) should be at the forefront of considerations.

As I’m writing this maybe I’m thinking more about the designer considering that the technology not all the PR says it is and to be critical in its application.

Now I’ve gotten to the point of rambling a bit so I’ll end the post here. How about you? What do designers of new emerging tools need to consider when they design their product?


Update

Like an hour after posting I started listening to the podcast, Medium Playback. The talk was “Mike Monteiro: “Design’s Lost Generation””. He articulates so well some of the things I was trying to get at in this post. I strongly recommend giving it a listen.