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Article: Codefirst: The Future of UI Design

MMS Founder

Article originally posted on InfoQ. Visit InfoQ

Key Takeaways

  • “Design thinking” is at the core of highly responsive mobile apps and websites, and this will turn product’s artists, into the product’s strategists
  • Large images and type designs will continue to dominate UI and UX
  • The rise of IoT across industries will accelerate the growth of VUIs
  • AR and VR will lead to an upsurge in demand for 3D designers
  • AI and Data will disrupt and drive the future of UI design

User interface (UI) design has played a critical role in computing for decades. The concept of UI design first appeared when graphical user interface operating systems (OS) like Macintosh and Microsoft entered the marketplace.

In the beginning, UIs took the form of digital icons associated with files or programs which opened whenever the end-user double-clicked them. In this scenario, these simple images were skeuomorphic and used to communicate functionality (in an easily recognizable and memorable way).

What is UI Design?

Today, UI gets described as everything that gets designed into a smart device where users can seamlessly interact with technology. UI design can take the form of desktops, display screens, and keyboards. It’s also a term that represents the manner in which the end-user interacts with an application or website.

With the exponential growth of mobile and web applications and the proliferation of smart mobile devices, UI now plays a vital role in enhancing the overall user experience (UX). UI design can also work as a key differentiator that helps brands stay competitive.

From its early beginnings as language-independent icons and images, UI design evolved to incorporate concepts like menus, windows, and pointers that made it much easier to navigate through the OS. Today, the same ideas help us navigate through smartphones and tablets.

In recent years, UI and UX design have become closely entwined and have a strong influence on each other. For example, both UI and UX have had a considerable impact on design thinking in product development teams who build highly responsive mobile apps and websites.

This scenario has transformed the role of the designer from the product’s artist to the product’s strategist.

What’s the Current State of UI Design?

If you look at your laptop, tablet, or mobile phone today, you’ll notice that the latest craze to sweep the industry is flat design. Flat design was a dramatic departure from Apple’s ubiquitous skeuomorphism style to one that celebrated minimalism (and focused on flat areas of colour and clean lines).

This trend boasted a UI that leveraged simplicity, flat surfaces, cleaner edges, and understated graphics. The flat design trend evidences a shift within the industry to make designs scale across many different form factors.

Websites, on the other hand, have incorporated polygonal shapes, simple geometric layers, and bold lines that grab the audience’s attention.

Tactile designs have also grown in popularity in recent months. This design trend makes objects appear hyper-real. Beyond these current trends, there are many examples of websites without borders, without multiple layers, with purposeful animation, and large images.

Going forward, you can undoubtedly expect the bar to be raised within the app and web world to ensure that both UI and UX work seamlessly together to improve user interactions.

So what’s the future of UI design? Let’s take a look.

Large Images and Type Designs Are Here to Stay

At least in the short term, websites and applications featuring large images and type design will go from strength to strength. When it comes to large images, in particular, the popularity of this design approach can be attributed to the need to quickly grab the attention of the audience by using emotion inducing imagery while overlaying essential information (BuzzFeed’s mobile site is an excellent example of this approach).

At the same time, many more simplistic typography-based designs often play the role of the primary element in the UI design. These typography-based designs should be most popular among content-based websites and apps that strive to draw your attention to the content rather than the design.

However, neither approach is as simple as just adding a high-resolution image or large texts. These decisions need to get made by finding the right balance between research data and design aesthetics.

You can expect to see a lot of large imagery and texts in the months to come, but don’t expect these design elements to be static. As video codecs improve, we can expect to see more videos replacing static imagery in backgrounds and headers.

The Rise of Voice User Interface (VUI) and Accessibility

Siri and Alexa set the stage for what’s about to come! Going forward, you can expect all mobile apps and websites to be VUI enabled to boost engagement.

In many cases, it’s much easier to ask a question than pick up the device and click through it until you find the right answer. As a result, screen-less user experiences should grow exponentially, leading to apps being more integrated into our lives and be a part of whatever we are doing (whether it’s cooking, cleaning, or driving).

The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) helps make VUIs ubiquitous. According to Gartner, virtual personal assistants (like Alexa and Siri) will dominate as much as 20% of user interactions by 2019. The following year, you can also expect 30% of online sessions not to feature a screen as virtual assistants communicate all the necessary information.

It might sound a bit odd when we talk about design without the presence of a screen. However, if you approach UIs in terms of functionality and UX, the thought process here is more or less the same. However, this doesn’t spell the end of graphical interfaces.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) Will Boost Demand for 3D Design Skills

AR and VR technologies are going through a period of rapid acceleration. AR and VR have led to the exponential growth in demand for 3D design skills. At present, AR and VR (and even XR – a mix of the two) are getting adopted across industries from travel to manufacturing, but the most significant impact occur within industrial design and modelling.

AR and VR in industrial design and modelling means that everything from the design of cars, ships, planes, and MRI machines get driven by UI/UX design. However, soon we should expect a shortage of designers who are capable of modelling and building 3D worlds.

Humans should play a role in the industry for years to come because there’s a need to be highly creative, think outside the box, and develop new realities for commercial projects. It also highlights the importance of “design thinking” that’s still a very human characteristic.

IoT Will Demand UI Designers to Rethink Their Approach

One by one, everything in our physical world is becoming digital and smart. So far, IoT has been limited by a boxed digital interface to connect both the physical and digital world. However, as IoT rapidly becomes the norm, this is slowly starting to change.

IoT interfaces aren’t the same as other smart devices like your mobile phone. This technology creates a whole set of new paradigms for designers to contemplate and reimagine. For example, UI/UX designers get to start conceptualizing what we have yet to consider.

IoT in UI design means that they designers will get to ask questions like the following:

  • How will these invisible sensors optimize functionality and UX?
  • How should the smart device be designed?
  • How is the end-user expected to interact with it?

These questions are just a tip of the iceberg. The more questions designers ask, and the answers they find lead to highly personalized smart “things” while blurring the lines between our physical world and a digital one.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Disrupt UI Design

Ever since AI started making significant strides, there were a lot of murmurs across industries about how it was going to replace humans. While most of the news stories concentrated on factory jobs and back office functions like data entry, AI is also about to disrupt the design world.

AI is going to change UI and UX significantly when it comes to both Interaction Design and Visual Design. Soon, many interfaces won’t get designed by humans. Instead, design gets done by software.

Two primary ideas driving this change: namely, Perfection of Interaction Design and Personality Responsive Design.

The Perfection of Interaction Design

The perfection of interaction design focuses on not “reinventing the wheel” with every new design iteration. For example, there’s no real need to change the date picker with every update.

Websites and apps have been around for many years, and our growing body of knowledge around user testing has grown exponentially. So now we can narrow it down to what’s best for a variety of use cases. So unless there’s a significant paradigm shift in the user’s content or the nature of the interface, there won’t be any need to change it.

As AI becomes more intelligent, application interfaces get generated rapidly to optimize user interaction, but these won’t get designed by humans.  Interaction design is all about the interactive components and graphics stored in UI/UX libraries within the system and leveraged by AI whenever it can optimize individual experiences.

The perfection of interaction design suggests that the AI approach to UI design should concentrate on the interaction paradigm in real-time and strive not to deliver great designs, but the right design, most of the time.

Personality Responsive Design

Modern design and digital strategies are all about personalization, and AI is expected to take that to the next level with fluid AIs. For example, based on user behaviour, the UI layers of any digital product can re-render in real-time to accommodate the end user’s unique preferences.

Personality responsive design changes the way we plan and develop apps, software, and websites because it won’t get focused on what the user might want or need, but rather what kind of relationship a brand wants to develop with its target audience.

Data Will Drive the Future of UI/UX Design

With the entry of AI within the UI/UX design space, it’s safe to say that UI/UX design now gets driven by data. So the perception of design as an art form has to change into something more scientific like Google’s material design.

Designers are already working like data scientists by running controlled experiments to collect data to determine the best approach to present information. They’re also leveraging data to identify the best way to help users navigate through a variety of interactions within applications.

Today, we have data analysts and digital strategists reviewing websites and apps to measure success and identify opportunities. In the years to come, this aspect of UI design also gets automated, and all the research and implementation gets carried out by AI.

With data and AI about to play a significant role in UI/UX design, what does the future hold for designers? While it’s difficult to make any reliable predictions, we can make an educated guess.

If you look at the evolution of UI design, it’s pretty clear that this field continually changes, so designers had to be highly adaptable to meet the demands of the business and the end-user. You can expect more of the same in the years to come and perhaps the emergence of designers who are also coders.

While titles like “UI designer” and “UX designer” won’t change any time soon, their roles should evolve to become highly fragmented and specialized. Data in design means that they get to become more adaptable and versatile to research, test, code, and adapt wireframes and MVPs.

Designers also must become more detail-oriented to differentiate digital products and stay a step ahead of the competition. Data in design also leads to data playing a prominent role in how the UI adapts to user behaviour, how well it can anticipate the user’s needs, and how fast it can get delivered.

Detailed-oriented designers within this space should also start continuously delivering product enhancements at a micro-level based on app data and overall market trends. The same is true when it comes to AR, VR, and VUI interfaces.

As AI concentrates on tactical design projects, someone needs to design the AI systems and their personality models. Designing for these personality types may lead designers down the programming path.

With all these IoT and AI-powered technologies playing a rapidly growing role in our daily lives, UI/UX designers must approach interfaces with security at the forefront of their minds.

Where do you see UI design in the next five years? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

About the Author

Graham Church is a software development specialist with over 25 years’ experience delivering software projects for clients such as Pfizer, Sony Ericsson, Prudential, ABB, and Lycos. He is the managing director of CodeFirst, a UK software development company that specialises in building custom solutions for businesses worldwide.


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