Creating User-Centered Websites: Part 2, The Key to Designing User Experiences of the Future
As new trends emerge, technology will affect the actions of web users through some common themes. We explore mouse-driven behaviors, typography, and mobile engagement for the future. It’s an exciting time to be planning and designing user interactions, so read more for our insight.
As an interaction designer and online marketer, I always like to keep one eye looking ahead to new trends. How does new technology affect the actions of web users? Well, it depends on the specific technology, but there are some common themes, namely independence, and convergence, which I’ll expand on more below.
How touch is changing our mouse-driven behaviors
Think about what it means to design a site that is “mouse independent.” We read and interact with touch interfaces differently, so just taking an existing website and displaying it on screen is not taking advantage of the channel. This is the similar issue behind “brochure-ware” websites of the ’90s; they did not enhance the content or improve the website interactions.
We can’t re-purpose existing sites from desktop to touch and expect the same results. Users interact with touch, mobile, and even their TV differently, so why would one expect the same web presentation to fit all needs?
For one, with a mouse-driven web experience, many designers rely on rollovers to let users know what’s clickable on the page. On touch screens, however, there is no rollover and buttons need to have obvious button-like visuals. Also, designing for tablets is more like designing for a kiosk than a website – homing devices and menus are sometimes at the bottom of the screen, meaning that eye-scanning patterns are different than websites. Navigating without a mouse is such a different user experience.
Closing the typography gap in online experiences
Because digital communications channels are becoming more sophisticated, our audiences expect online brand experiences to be similar to offline experiences. The “high fidelity” experience in print or signage is also now expected online. Typography was a barrier to this level of fidelity before – fonts were limited, and even when developers employed workarounds they came at a cost to SEO or other usability – but that gap is closing. Typekit and the Google Font API are tools that allow you to use a multitude of typefaces for better brand integration and typography without flash or other workarounds.
We’re going mobile. What experience do users expect?
Consider how mobile and augmented reality changes user expectations. What happens when you can merge interactions with real spaces? With a GPS-enabled mobile device, applications can detect where you are in real-space and use that information to tie into other data. If you were house shopping and took a picture of a house, access to the MLS data or a virtual tour would be extremely helpful. Even more so, what if you took a picture of a block of houses and could compare that same house with the past sale price of the neighbor’s home? Or access the tax database for comparison? Very helpful, right? While we might get that data now by searching through gridded pages online, an interface that combines an overlay of data over real images would be a much more intuitive way to interpret it.
Combining real and online experiences is also about getting the information at the exact time it’s needed. I read an article about how museums are changing the experience by adding tags (QR Codes) to the artwork labels that can be accessed by taking a picture with your mobile phone. What’s interesting about this museum example is that they are encouraging visitors to become a part of the experience by inviting them to comment on the blog, right as they are still viewing the exhibit. Even in a commercial setting, the ability to get information about a product on-the-spot would help to make a purchase decision. Access to full specifications and user reviews would certainly help me make my next television purchase (which right now would require a fair bit of online research).
The future is now
Even though I titled this post “The Key to Designing User Experiences of the Future,” there really isn’t anything I’ve mentioned that couldn’t be done today. All of these concepts center around two themes: independence and convergence.
“Digital independence” comes from two areas: freedom from a physical mouse or keyboard via touch interfaces and freedom from the desk via mobile devices. Independence is shaping our interactions with sites because we know have fewer barriers to information and are more able to easily access detailed information just about anywhere.
The convergence of real and online experiences is possible because we are removing barriers. We’re reducing the typography barrier and with GPS-enabled devices and augmented reality we are providing better “real-world” context to data. With tagging technology such as QR codes, we can link what’s happening in the offline world to the online world and create a total brand experience.
It’s an exciting time to be planning and designing these user interactions, but as you do, please keep your users’ needs and expectation in mind.
A continuation of Part 1: How to Design for Results