Now and then, reviewing what you know about a certain field becomes a necessity.
Simply put, there are numerous questions you’ve never bothered to answer, and few you’ve probably forgotten the answers to. For example, in what ways the field has changed since the last time you’ve reviewed your knowledge, what you should focus on now, which aspects of it have become obsolete, how can you use your experience to make the world a better place… The list goes on.
Design – even though you may have probably not even noticed – is one of the most sensitive fields in this respect; mainly, because it’s easily impacted by changes and improvements in other areas. Realizing this means power. Not merely because it gives you the much-needed competitive edge; but because if other fields of human endeavour affect design so subtly, design may affect them too in return.
And 2018 may be the year when it will finally realize its full potential, becoming one of our best tools for changing the world for the better.
Because UI design can be:
In the past, design often lacked a human component; until recently, it seemed as if some products were made for some alien civilization. But, no that’s all about to irreversibly change.
Empathy is rapidly becoming the departing point of design. Because design can solve real-world problems – but that can only happen if designers put their focus on the users, instead of personal gain.
Empathy is the core principle in the powerful design thinking methodology. Developed at Stanford, the methodology has been applied ever since the 80s and has helped solve a broadest range of problems – everything from aircraft engineering to social work.
“Design that matters most is design that solves real human problems,” says Michelle Morrison, a Design Program Manager at Facebook. “Forward looking, I see design playing a major role in how we tackle the big, nasty issues in society. Design will become more political, more accessible, and a toolset that affects real change.”
The good news is that this empathic approach is applicable to designing just about anything – from incubators for new-borns and baby bottles for toddlers to books for students and financial programs for market analysts. Because it’s not about what you are creating; it’s about whom you are creating it for.
Here’s a simple example.
Theoretically, one can publish a plain-text book; and it may be a great book; it can even become popular among a particular group of readers.
However, one can also publish the same book quite differently, by finding out which kinds of colours and fonts relate to appropriate content-based moods and, say, combining them with suitable illustrations. And even eBooks can be transformed, irreversibly transforming the reading experience as a result!
Either way, it starts with empathy. And versatile knowledge of the targeted audience.
Recent data protection issues have proved – hopefully, once and for all – that the advancement of digital technology shouldn’t be immune to ethical introspection.
As users, we all give our data in exchange for entertainment or valuable information that we can get on the Internet. However, this shouldn’t mean that the services we give our data to can use it for any other purpose than the one we’re giving them for.
As you probably already know full well, just recently, Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting company, spent $1 million dollars to harvest over 50 million personal Facebook profiles with an intention to use the knowledge to win Donald Trump the U.S. president seat back in 2016.
However, very soon (25 May 2018), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will supersede a two-decade old privacy act, enforcing new rules for companies who deal with the personal information of EU citizens. It took almost four years for the EU to adopt the new regulation, and the businesses worldwide had the past two years to adapt to it. Starting June – they risk fines if they don’t adhere to the new law. German companies went a step further: the NetzDG obliges social media companies to delete ”manifestly unlawful” content within a day!
OK, I get it, you say! But, how does this relate to UI design?
Well, how does it not? Design it one of the first areas where data protection should be applied. And Per Axbom – designer, writer, and coach at Axbom Innovation – is fairly sure that every designer already knows this:
“A growing awareness of ethical thinking, value sensitive design and data protection regulations will push the development of user interfaces that keep users well-informed about the data they are giving up and how it will, and could, be used.”
UI design never had the luxury of being an “art for art’s sake” discipline, but who would have thought that it will evolve to a “function-first” phase?
Analyses show that we are gradually moving towards a point at which every element of a webpage will be custom-made and meaningful to a specific audience. This way of thinking about UI design implies a lot of understanding and even more responsibility.
Functional design was originally an engineering paradigm, but it’s already fairly popular UI approach. The idea is simple: every module/element should be in charge of one certain function – and there should be no more modules/elements than the required functions. This way, everything will be clear and intuitively comprehensibly to users from the start.
There’s an obvious reason why we shifted towards functionalism.
Namely, we finally own tools powerful enough to measure accurately users’ behaviours. Nowadays, you don’t need to guess the answers to few questions which seemed almost impossible to answer only a while ago.
For example, would changing the colour of a button affect the number of clicks? Does embedding the navigation bar (so that it doesn’t disappear during scrolling) makes the site better or not? What if you add a “native” Facebook “Message us” button instead of creating one yourself?
Well, nowadays you can test all these things. Make iterations to your website and watch the analytical tools readily available do their magic. It’s only logical that you opt for the one which brings the most traffic.
As design tools become more and more accessible, learning how to use them will take less and less time. And this, in turn, means a much wider manoeuvring space for creativity.
Since basically everything you see around you was designed at certain point, chances are designers have a lot to do. So, if you are one of them, you need to value your time and choose the tools which allow you to do more in less time. Fortunately, technology strides forward and, basically, works for you just as much as you work with it.
And it’s not only designers which benefit from this. Users do too.
Paradoxically – but true – now that they have more time, designers are more successful in creating simple and straightforward applications, which are easy-to-use and relevant. Creating complex designs is, more often than not, easier: just include everything and leave the rest to the user. Creating simple designs, however, asks for an empathic and ethically-oriented designer who puts the needs of the users first and is dedicated to functional aestheticism.
Blaming the users for impatience doesn’t work anymore; respecting their time does.
Understandably, the future of UI design is tightly connected with the future of back-end software engineering. Front-end is becoming more and more sophisticated; back-end is getting simpler. Smart technologies, based on artificial intelligence, constantly work on personalizing the user experience and delivering the relevant information at the most appropriate moment.
“Advice is not one-size fits all”, says Google. Adding that now is the time of the micro-moments! And that we have powerful analytical tools to gain profound knowledge of our users’ online behaviour and, thus, gain the ability of predicting the shortest path between them and our product.
Now, the idea of understanding your is probably as old as marketing. However, even 20th century marketers would be amazed at the power of the tools we have at present, and the supposed one of those currently in development.
When done right, design can authentically touch us, shaking our existence to the very core, and even unravelling who we are by the way we react to external impulses.
Fuelled by a host of emerging technologies, ethical understanding of responsibilities and empathy for the final users, design is no more only about aesthetics.
Instead, it has become a powerful tool for transmitting your message to the world. And – possibly – even changing it.
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