Without doubt I, like many others, spend a lot of time on my smartphone, computer & tablet surfing the web, tweeting and exploring our digital landscape. And I think it’s safe to say we all have some pretty high hopes for what our digital experience will be in the future. [Secretly] We hope that we’ll be able to interact with our space similar to Tom Cruise’s character in the movie Minority Report (2002) or Tony Stark in Iron Man.
..but the truth is, we’re not there yet.
While sifting through tweets in my stream, I came across this – “A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design” by Bret Victor which had this pretty amazing video that details some visions of the future and how technology will interact with us in every aspect of our lives.
What I thought was interesting about Bret’s response was that it wasn’t your basic, “Ooh, look how pretty” or “tech-y speak, tech-y speak” the kind of stuff that tends to get annoying when people start thinking about their future iPads. Instead he chose to focus on asking some questions (and offering some ideas) about how we interact with the devices we use every day and how this vision of the future doesn’t push those limits.
I shared the rant with some of my techy, internet friends hoping to strike up a conversation and it did. Some of the points they made focused on individual devices and asked why we wouldn’t use our finger to move things about on our smartphones, tablets, computer screens, virtual keyboards, etc. But a few others chose to focus on why the whole experience. A single user interface jumping from device to device giving us a seamless experience from the time we turn off the alarm in the morning till it turns the tv off after we’ve fallen asleep. This time of interface could provide a bridge over the hurdles of interacting with so many different interfaces throughout the day. Personally in one day I use a PC running Windows XP, a Mac running OSX 10.7, an Android phone with Gingerbread and a set-top media streaming device built off of the Linix platform, all providing a very different look and feel from the next and each with their own set of rules for interacting with them.
However, Bret takes it a step further noticing that the central “component” of these interactive features were the users hands and this is when he starts to stress his concerns about we we interact with everyday items in our environment. He feels that as the future of these devices take shape they should begin to provide more feedback to the user and that we shouldn’t only interact with the surface of the glass while “sliding” the images displayed around underneath. We are constantly communicating to our devices through touches and swipes but aren’t receiving anything in return. When i push a glob of paint with my finger I can feel it squish underneath in between my finger and the canvas. As I scroll the mouse wheel there is resistance, providing me with information about how fast or slow the content on the page is moving. The same happens when I type on the keyboard or drive my car, I am in a dialogue with the thing I am operating.
I’m not saying that our current user experiences are bad, I love using the office iPad and I don’t envision at this point how it could be improved but in the future being able to truly interact with my environment would be a welcomed experience.
I leave you with this interesting TEDTalk from Jehn Underkoffler, one of the people behind the Minority Report style interfaces -