This is a time of drastic change.
With Windows and personal computers over the last decade, the actions of clicking, double clicking and dragging have become second nature. However, a few years back, Apple introduced the iPhone, and even more recent, the iPad. Mutli-touch & enhanced native gestures began to become common place. Google's Android platform took form shortly after and followed suit with its own innovative interactions. After years of stagnant interaction design, new native gestures have taken the stage.
The problem with the current situation is that we all have a nasty habit of sitting back and riding the age-old interaction wave. Designers that casually hop onto this motion are often considered successful while those that try to innovate are considered failures. In fact, those innovators were, more often than not, simply ahead of their time.
Take the iPhone for example - it was created by Apple but did not drastically affect the marketplace until close to a year after being released. If you take this same timeline and apply it to new apps on iOS or Android, and it would feel like a lifetime. Apps take ages to create from concept to app-store-existence but can fail within weeks because of any number of things. The interactions that they invoke from the user can be one of the most critical pieces to the success puzzle.
Should the developer keep it simple and stick with tried & true methods of interaction? Should they display endless toolbars and icon captions to ensure that the user can find their way through the app? Or, should they take a chance and create some really intuitive interfaces and ditch the rest of the clutter - going the route of REAL simplicity while innovating the way users interact with their devices.
"The visual language of our interfaces has gone through a lot of changes over the past decade. Remember what the Web 2.0 interfaces felt like? Giant type, ginormous forms, and buttons that would make Fitt’s Law insignificant. God forbid you went off task or didn’t know exactly what to do next. Icons lined our digital streets (and still do in some parts). Need to cancel something? A big red circle with an “x” is here so you can be sure what it means." — Francisco Inchauste
A new app called Clear has been making its way through popular tech blogs over the last week or so. Clear is a simplistic to do app that does one thing and seemingly does it well. There is no complicated UI, no list of settings or sync features - it is a grouping of lists, each with to do items. That's it.
The reason this app has been making some waves in the calm waters of interaction design is because of the interesting approach they are taking with Clear's UI. Instead of having a set of buttons on toolbar to allow the user to view lists and add/remove items, users can do it by swiping on items, pinching in to view lists and out to create a to do item. It is completely minimalistic and focused on one thing: the items in the to do list.
This is where it gets tricky. While this isn't the first app to have interactions like this, it is the first to completely avoid user interface best practices and integrated ONLY the gestures I listed above. This means that users have a prolonged period (prolonged for some - for others it may be instantaneous) of discovery.
Connect The Dots
Before the iPhone, interactions with computers were limited to keystrokes and clicks of the mouse. There were endless combinations of keyboard shortcuts and clicks during this time but there was no way to directly interact with a device until the success of multi-touch. Now that pinching, rotating and swiping are all native gestures that most people are comfortable with, innovation is needed again. Clear App could be the new innovator in this field. It doesn't seem like a big push but it is certainly in the right location. To do apps have long needed an overhaul (arguably only beaten by the overhaul needed in the e-mail world) because they often over-complicate a simple thing. Users must learn how to use their to-do app rather than using it to simplify their lives.
Now, Clear isn't the only focus point here. Yes, it looks fantastic and the developers going out on a ledge with their UI decisions could lead to a new world of native gestures, but it can't end there.
We can't allow for interactions to become stagnant again. The Windows era of clicks and keystrokes lasted far too long without any noticeable innovation. Even Apple's iPhone and the android platform have been around for over five years - they too have left an open path for evolving interactions.
With that, I want to leave you with a few great posts & videos that I had a pleasure of viewing recently. The first two are tied together and are called "Media Surfaces" - they deal with incidental media and determining what devices do when they aren't being used in order to invoke interaction rather than being called upon for a specific task. The second video is embedded below:
The third and final thing is the promotional video for clear—not only is it beautifully produced, but it shows the simplicity of its interactions and ease of use.
*Title photo by "Elmo-Jr" on flickr. View here.