A user interface is the face of a computing system and has evolved a lot over the last few years. Hence it goes without saying that UI plays a critical role in deciding the fate of computing. The concept of UI design first emerged when GUI operating systems like Macintosh and Microsoft entered the marketplace.
Digital interfaces have progressed rapidly within the last few decades. But there’s still a long way to go and there are many possible directions that future interface designs could take. We’re already seeing many new trends crop up and it’s exciting to think about how they’ll change our lives.
The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better designs we will have.
– Steve Jobs, Apple
Another prominent development in recent years, is the emergence of UX; and the considerable impact of UI and UX on design thinking in product development.
In this article, we will talk about the history, present state and potential emergence of interfaces in the future. If you are particularly interested in finding out about how interfaces will evolve next, jump to the section - Future UI Trends.
How did interfaces evolve over time ?
Back in 1981 IBM introduced the first personal computer, it came with Microsoft’s MS-DOS operating system that required users to key in command prompts that would execute specific tasks on their PC. It was boring-looking, tedious and required users to remember a lot of commands to complete tasks.
In 1984, everything changed when Apple introduced the Macintosh, a computer that popularised the use of Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) on personal computers. It was revolutionary; users would use their PC’s not just because they had to, but because they wanted to.
GUI was made to simplify the way users navigate around the functions of their computers.
Eventually displays got better, with technology rapidly advancing after the widespread implantation of GUI’s across many personal devices. The push for better-looking, professional and more eye-catching visuals became the next big thing.
Further the rise of the touch-screen era opened new ways for users to interact with their devices. GUI’s started drawing even more real references to real-life objects and textures. This type of design was known as Skeuomorphism.
Things started getting really detailed in the graphics department of interface design in the early 2000s. Elements like icons were being designed with an aim to be as realistic as possible. There were reflections, gradients and shadows that made things pop more. You could flip pages on iBooks the same way you could on regular books. Mimicking our reality in digital realms was possible because displays and processing power got better.
After a few years though, users were feeling bored. Since all our digital spaces were mimicking our reality there was not much of a visual excitement for our users. In fact, things were looking overemphasized.
In 2002, UIs completely changed when the idea of Flat Design came out. Simple, clean, no textures or reflective surfaces, no glass or leather. Skeuomorphism in all it’s shadowed glory, become a thing of the past. Since users had gotten used to the way interfaces worked,so they had little need for real references to help them understand how things functioned.
A rapid shift from ultra-realistic design to almost flat was seen everywhere. This also meant that applications took less time to load as interfaces became less graphic-intensive. Today, flat design is a mainstream interface design. Flat aesthetic is everywhere the websites we surf and mobile apps we use most of them are flat.
What to expect Next ?
Design trends come and go. Skeuomorphic design and flat design are no exceptions. Looking forward into the next few decades of technology, many predictions have been made regarding how future interfaces might look like. Let’s split the following examples according to current UI trends and potential future UI predictions.
Current UI Trends
1. Voice User Interfaces
VUI’s allow users to interact with a system through voice or speech commands. Virtual assistants, such as Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa are examples of VUI’s. The primary advantage of a VUI is that it allows for a very natural, life-like interaction which opens up many possibilities. Below are two examples that explain how interfaces are designed for voice.
2. Augmented Reality
AR experience integrates the digital world and the physical world seamlessly in real-time and any interactions should feel like you are interacting within a real world environment. There are apps like Google translate, Pokemon Go and Lenskart. While keeping this in mind, the concept of traditional navigation design patterns can be somewhat redundant and AR will aid in a new era in user interface design. Below are a few examples of AR that shows how UI’s are designed for augmented reality.
3. Virtual Reality
VR is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Applications of virtual reality can include entertainment (eg: Gaming) and educational purposes (eg: Medical or Military training). Currently these systems use either VR headsets or multi-projected environments to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment. There are brands like Facebook, Microsoft and Google that offer these headsets currently. Below are a few examples of VR that shows how UI’s are designed for virtual reality.
Future UI Trends
1. Wearable User Interfaces
Wearable computers are electronic devices which you can wear on like an accessory or apparel. It can be a pair of gloves, eyeglasses, a watch or even a suit. The key feature of wearable UI is that it should keep your hands free and will not hinder your daily activities. Below are a few examples of wearable tech that shows how UI’s are designed for wearables in which your skin might be the touch screen.
2. Holographic User Interfaces
A holographic display is a type of display that utilizes light diffraction to create a virtual three-dimensional image of an object. Holograms are distinguished from other forms of 3D imaging in that they do not require the aid of any special glasses or external equipment for a viewer to see the image. The world of science fiction has provided a great platform for people to express their ideas and fantasies too. Below are a few examples of Holographic projections from the movies Iron Man and Avatar that shows how UI’s are designed for Hologram.
3. Autonomous User Interfaces
A fully autonomous vehicle is 35 years away from mainstream acceptance. The biggest reason for this is for humans to trust an automated system. But what we can predict for sure are semi autonomous vehicles which mean intelligent cars with limited autonomous modes, that can handle some situations, but would still require the driver to take the wheel occasionally. Brands like Tesla, Volvo, Waymo & Google are working on these ideas. Below are a few examples of semi-autonomous and fully-autonomous vehicles that shows how UI’s are designed for the automobile industry.
4. Gesture-based User Interfaces
Gestural UI is using specific gestures, like scrolling, pinching and tapping to operate an interface. It also refers to gesture recognition, tilting, eye motion and shaking. The technology has evolved from very basic motions and applications to the complex, and it is now a part of everyday life for a huge number of people. As this technology continues to evolve, the future possibilities are also incredibly exciting. Below are a few examples of Project Soli- a chip designed by Google that shows how UI’s would possibly be designed for gesture-based interfaces.
As UI’s become more intuitive and natural for the new generation of users, we will be treated with a more immersive computing experience that will simultaneously test our ability to digest the flood of knowledge being shared. It may be overwhelming and, at times, exciting and it’s definitely something to look forward to in the upcoming technologies.
Eventually, tech will be invisible and fluid. Talking to your devices will be as natural as talking to another person.
So how do you see the future? How will our role as designers change? What new technologies will we adapt? Although a lot can be questioned at this moment, one thing is for sure: we’ll be stepping away from our contemporary jobs of UI/UX designers as we know it today.