The future of technology and design runs through an exciting and effective UI. Be it neural links or mixed reality glasses, someone will have to design the interactive interfaces for us to use these devices – and the trends are quite thrilling to look at.
Mobile devices have been a huge part of our lives in the past decade. As technology moves forward, we can expect these devices to get increasingly close to our bodies, perhaps reaching an ideal point of total communion with them. But before we talk about brain implants and AR glasses, there are a number of other inspiring ideas that are definitely worth looking at.
To learn more about this exciting topic, we reached out to Inderpal Virdi, Senior UI Designer at giffgaff, who shared his views in the beautiful article below.
In order to understand the future, we need to examine our past. Many philosophers have said something similar, and in UI design the point holds true.
Having worked in the industry for many years, I eagerly anticipate new, emerging design trends every year. These trends are often influenced by the latest devices, cultural shifts due to emerging technologies and the influx of design tools available to the design community.
In the last decade, mobile devices have had a significant impact on the way we design. We now have to account for smaller screen sizes and no longer rely on a mouse cursor to simply point and click on UI elements as we do on our desktops. Now we tap, swipe, pinch and hold and these behaviours have become the norm, not just for technology enthusiasts but much of the general population.
We’ve seen a shift from skeuomorphism, where the familiarity of everyday objects represented on screens helped us all to understand how to use them. To an era of flat design, where the responsive web and the proliferation of touch devices led to more touch friendly tiles.
With the emergence of technology such as 4G, we have witnessed many on-demand services, which have changed human experiences and expectations. As a result we’ve seen a simplification of UI, focusing on reducing clutter and noise.
There has also been an explosion of new design tools such as Sketch, Figma and Adobe XD and a move away from traditional tools such as Adobe Photoshop. Consequently, we’ve seen less heavy looking interfaces full of bezels, gradients and drop shadows in favour of more lightweight clear interfaces which focus on content.
To understand where UI design may go, it's important to look at what feels current, contemporary, and forward thinking in the world of UI design today.
In 2016, an article by Michael Horton spoke about a new design trend which he termed “Complexion reduction”. All of the most popular apps had been stripped back to focus on bigger headlines, there was an extraction of colour and a use of simpler icons. The onus was now on designers making the best product for their user.
Clean and minimal has been very much the focus of UI design for the most popular apps and web designs in recent years.
Apple iOS and MacOS have adopted a soft UI approach over more recent iterations, as corners have gradually become more rounded, and we see more soft shadows and delicate gradients.
Material design made depth more commonplace amongst UI, playing with lighting and shadows to elevate cards and bring some hierarchy to our designs.
What’s the next innovation for UI design?
A quick glance on Dribbble and Behance will show some beautiful examples of skeuomorphism, neumorphism, glassmorphism and plastic-extrusion styles. They feel like a fresh change from the minimal interfaces we have seen over the past few years but whether they become widely adopted remains to be seen.
Yacht Booking Service Application - Rent Yacht by Nikolay B. for RonDesignLab
I suspect whilst the designs caused a bit of a stir within the design community, we won’t see it being adopted by most popular companies on a widescale. Expectations in user experience and accessibility has led to more minimal looking interfaces and soft extrusions for example may cause some confusion in UI or may just be deemed unnecessary detail.
But it is refreshing to see a small nod to skeuomorphism being combined with the more minimal fresh look associated with modern design.
Technology leading the way
The technology available to us will undoubtedly throw up exciting new possibilities and the future of design is very much dependent on how we interact with an interface.
A few years ago, Dominos Pizza introduced “Dom the pizza bot”, a conversational AI on facebook messenger that allowed users to order pizza or chicken wings.
We began to see concepts combining chatbots and AR to “try on” glasses.
Messenger Bots & Augmented Video Call Concept - Isil Uzum
Companies such as Ikea and Houzz have allowed us through their apps to visualise furniture in our own home before buying.
Beyond touch UI
Much of the past decade saw UI designers divert their attention to touch devices. Wearable tech and our use of everyday devices such as smart thermometers, fridges and TV’s have meant new challenges are being constantly presented to designers.
Often interfaces are now too intricate to be suitable for touch. Or TV platforms will continue to be controlled via a remote.
Voice User Interfaces (VUI) must consider how users will interact with a product if they cannot use their hands to navigate (driving a car).
There has been much speculation about Apple releasing AR smart glasses as soon as 2022.
Designing for this particular medium throws up many interesting challenges. UI design up until now has typically only been displayed on a screen where the designer has full control over how the interface is to be presented.
Overlaying information to be read on top of the real world will throw up many accessibility challenges as we cannot control the background colours. Content will still need to be transparent or opaque enough that you can see the world around you.
Despite these obvious challenges, the opportunity to design interfaces for this medium is exciting. Can we make experiences feel less sci-fi and more seamless and everyday through wearable tech like AR glasses?
How will the likes of Spotify or Nike react to these exciting possibilities? This beautiful example shows how users may use air gesture controls to scroll through music albums in the augmented world around them.
Or how about running glasses through which you can view information on your run?
Skeuomorphism and Virtual Reality
As we are presented with a whole new canvas in virtual reality, we again are at a stage where skeuomorphism helps users to make sense of the new world around them.
We are seeing many examples where apps are emulating the real world in VR, with a ground, a sky, a ceiling or walls. But a virtual world can be anything we allow ourselves to dream about, not bound by gravity for example.
Whilst there has been much excitement around the possibilities of stepping into this new world over the past 5 years or so, designers still have much to figure out while VR goes through this skeuomorphism stage. It will be interesting to see what the flat design equivalent of VR will be.
To get super excited about the future of UI, we have to talk about Neuralink - a company founded by Elon Musk. The company is designing the first neural implant that will let you control a computer or mobile device. How would UI design look in a world controlled by our brain? Is it best combined with AR? We still need to visually see what we’d like to do or see (choosing music to play or getting directions to somewhere).
Whilst the future of UI innovation is exciting, the global pandemic has given many of us a fresh perspective on life and technology. From sustainability and the planet to addressing ergonomic problems, given our reliance on technology.
As designers we have a responsibility to ensure we have some control over the impact of technology on our world.
AR, VUI and Neuralink all provide endless possibilities moving forward, and the UI we design needs to take into consideration issues such as accessibility, sustainability and ergonomics (reducing discomfort for users).
As the landscape continues to shift for designers over the next 10 years, it’s important to also have some fun designing, ensuring we continue to adhere to good fundamental design principles regardless of the platform.