In a world where new applications are developed on a daily basis, we’re now spending more time on screens than ever before.
While in the past our lives may have been dominated by paper, and going digital solves some of the problems associated with using paper in an office environment (like remote storage), screens are now posing a different kind of challenge to our minds and behaviour.
In fact, the increasing use of digital interfaces has been criticised for being so distracting that we don’t even have time to think properly anymore.
A Shift from Screen-Based Thinking to Screenless Thinking
Google Design strategist Golden Krishna wrote a book called The Best Interface is No Interface a while ago, and still regularly speaks on the topic.
His approach is that design today is very focused on User Interfaces (UI), and not so much on efficient user experience. In a recent talk given at Google Design, he talks about how our addiction to screens have impacted our ability to empathise with one another, and have even contributed to a rapid increase in car accidents (because people look at their phones and get distracted while driving).
While there are contrary opinions to Krishna’s ideas, his approach to design is centred around three principles, which give us a lot to think about when it comes to the future of design and how we experience technology.
Here is a brief summary and explanation of these principles below (based on his recent talk):
1. There is a need to embrace processes instead of screens
In his talk, Krishna talks about how there is an app for everything, but all this does is draw our attention to our phones and other screens, and doesn’t necessarily increase efficiency or productivity (for example, how useful is a screen on a trashcan outside that tells you it’s raining, when you’re already standing outside?)
Krishna’s idea is that we don’t always need to engage in complex UI to get a job done, and that we can design technology better for less disruption. He illustrates this example with an app called Lockitron that uses simple bluetooth technology to open a lock on a door instead of having to go through a 12-step process on a phone to open the app and click a number of prompts.
The popularity of Internet of Things (IoT) devices definitely speaks to this, but even with these developments (like voice-activated devices like Alexa, Amazon Echo and others) there are still limitations in what automated bots can do, and we’re often still having to use screen-based apps to engage with connected devices.
The main point is this: while apps lend themselves to a simple advertising model that works well on screens, there is an opportunity to design a range of “backpocket” apps that don’t require intensive user input, and focus more on efficiency than screen time, for example, apps like Timely (which tracks time for freelancers in the background while they are working on their desktop).
2. We need to leverage computers to serve us and not the other way around
Krishna’s approach is that “there’s a different way of thinking about how to create great technology”, and that the abundance of screen time takes away from time that can be spent doing more valuable things (like engaging with people, perhaps?).
Instead of becoming a slave to screens, Krishna advocates that we use technology to support us, and move away from the overwhelm that comes with having to negotiate not only screens but a vast amount of data coming in from various sources.
Tracking apps like Timely are a good example of this, as they allow people to maximise their time, by not having to spend extra time on a computer telling a computer how they spent time on the same computer.
In fact, the plethora of productivity apps available today might not actually contribute towards solving the problems they intend to (because there are so many of them to choose from). In other words, an approach to better serving people instead of creating a range of user interfaces to engage with, might actually contribute to maximising productivity in the future.
3. We need to create systems that adapt to individuals
Krishna’s last principle is that the systems we design need to be adaptable to individuals, and take advantage of simple user interfaces and advanced learning technologies to gain valuable data that really does improve the customer experience.
Technologies like AI and Machine Learning (ML) are improving, but they are still only really as effective as the quality of data that they are working with.
For example, instead of using vague prompts on a website to try and gauge a customer’s experience, more thought could be put into the questions that are asked in order to gain the minimum viable data (MVD) required for business purposes.
So, instead of just putting up a “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” on a website to gauge user reactions, more intuitive questions could be asked to guide better design that minimises screen time and enhances the efficiency of whatever process/business purpose the user interface is trying to achieve.
What is the future of design in a screenless world?
Krishna’s approach to the future of design is only one of many, but with the amount of time that people spend engrossed on computer screens, it makes sense that not all of this time spent on screens is productive, or even necessary.
While screens will certainly not disappear anytime soon, moving towards a more intuitive and efficient approach when it comes to design is applicable across multiple fields, from software development to marketing, and the principles put forward in The Best Interface is no Interface definitely provide ample food for thought when it comes what kind of future society we are currently building.
At SovTech we build a range of software development tools that can assist with business productivity and managing data in an informed and efficient way. Contact Us to find out more.