UX Immersion: The Mobile Frontier

by Luke Wroblewski April 23, 2012

In her The Mobile Frontier presentation at UX Immersion, Rachel Hinman explored future trends in mobile and their implications for designers. Here's my notes from her talk:

  • Mobile has arrived. As more people experience mobile technology, it’s no longer a niche topic for a subset of designers. It’s everywhere.
  • Mobile currently feels like the Wild West: lots of unexplored terrain and people working through a lot of new challenges.
  • But lots of people are trying to replicate physical objects, desktop applications, and office suites on mobile. This is an example of the “rear view mirror effect” –we apply old habits to new things: like desktop habits to mobile.
  • Mobile presents an opportunity to invent new ways for users to interact with information. We need to embrace the spirit of invention instead of leaning too much on the past.
  • There’s a lot of reasons for using previous conventions on mobile: they are familiar to people, we know how to design/build them. But we need to let go of this comfort zone and push forward into the new frontier.
  • Where is mobile going in the next few years? These three trends can point the way: shape shifting, a brave NUI world, comfortable computing.

Shape Shifting

  • People have a growing expectation of convergence: their digital content will follow them to whatever device they are using at any moment.
  • However most content and services do not shift effortlessly between devices. Instead they are heavy and difficult to move around.
  • Hanging on to metaphors of the past (page, print-based) isn’t a scalable model. We need our content to shape-shift across experiences.
  • Situated action and mutual reconfiguration: a person’s capacity to act is reconfigured when it comes into contact with another person or thing.
  • Most people interact with devices ad hoc. They course correct as they go and don’t employ a clear system or plan up front.
  • Social dynamics also play a role. People adapt their behavior with devices when other people are present.
  • The best mobile interactions are sensitive to context. We need to shift our contextual assumptions and assumptions around content as a design medium.
  • Much of how we understand about computing today stems from the static context of the office. There’s a lot of sameness in our office environments around the world.
  • Throughout our design process, our work should happen in the contexts where use is happening. Research, design, and testing in real environments.
  • Design is the manipulation of materials (wood, cloth). For a long time, designers thought of screens and pages as their design medium. But really content is our medium.
  • Content can manifest itself as words, sounds, images, and more. It needs to flow like water across devices & experiences.

Brave NUI World

  • The GUI paradigm was designed for a very specific context. Large screen, keyboard, seated context, etc defined GUI context.
  • We’re reaching the end of GUIs. Too many features and functions are falling apart under their own weight. GUIs are really brittle on mobile devices.
  • Touch interfaces feel intuitive. Our sense of touch develops before many of our other senses.
  • We’re in the middle of the GUI/NUI chasm. We cling to the legacy of the past because it is comfortable but we push forward toward new heuristics at the same time. This is a delicate balance.
  • GUIs are built around the model of computer as tool (complete task, efficiency). GUIs provide recognition: what you see is what you get. GUIs give data physical properties: files live in folders and have locations. GUIs feature heavy chrome, icons, and buttons.
  • NUIs are built around the model of computer as media. NUIS focus on what you do is what you get. They are built around intuition. NUIs are fluid, unmediated, and organic: they let content be the interface.
  • GUI experiences are very anchored. NUI experiences unfold like a fun game and can feel anchor less. This provides the opportunity to create new patterns.
  • How to unfold mobile experiences: nested doll, hub & spoke, bento box, filtered view.
  • Nested doll: summary view to detail unfolding.
  • Hub & spoke: traverse out from central place and come back.
  • Bento box: tightly nested information that interconnects several modules.
  • Filtered view: different views of a bucket of information (filter and see content differently)

Comfortable Computing

  • The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life. –Mark Weiser
  • In 1991, Weiser predicted technology would exist in three inch, foot long, and yard long screens.
  • Mobile is the gateway drug to ubiquitous computing. We can follow toddlers into the future by observing how they use mobile today.
  • The primary usage of tablets is in the home. People report tablets are like “curling up with a good book”. There is a sense of intimacy with tablet use.
  • People are turning to mobile technology for comfort, connection, and personal needs.
  • Mobile can be different than a task-based model. Mobile can be about possibility, exploration, and sensing intent. Email is a task. Twitter is an experience.
  • Screens can reconfigure interfaces by sensing intent.
  • Many of the things that are most important to people in the world aren’t about tasks. Mobile is better suited to meeting our real needs (beyond tasks).
  • Mobile is an opportunity to invent the future.