Design Focus: If You Build It, They Will Learn to Use It

Everyone, except your mother, is embracing new technology

Most great ideas often start with, "Wouldn't it be cool if you could ... ?" To which someone (usually somebody's mother) inevitably replies: "Now why would someone want to do that?" At least, this has been my mother's response to almost every new invention since the color TV. She immediately rejects anything that threatens the medium, format or routine with which she's already comfortable.

But now, innovative technologies are introduced to us almost daily and, as a result, the majority of the population is becoming quicker to adapt and adopt. Innovations are no longer threatening; in fact, they are anxiously anticipated. 

People now expect to be able to buy their groceries, watch the latest episode of Lost or manage their checking account from anywhere, using any device. Most of us have several screens within grasp every minute of the day and we think nothing of it. We're increasingly at the mercy of the appetite of a new set of needs and desires we never even knew we had - brought to life by a new device, application, branded product or service. These new additions work their way into our existence and create corresponding new opportunities that didn't exist before. In exactly that way, advancements in screen technology have created new, emergent customer needs.

The boom in new screen technologies has created - and will keep creating - new paradigms for delivery retrieval and display. TV was the gateway drug, and now we're all hooked on the hard stuff. Screens are sprinkled and spread throughout our environment, providing ubiquitous and endless access to people, services and transactions.

So whether my mother agrees with it or not, the way we shop, read, socialize and entertain ourselves is changing because of these little screens. As designers, it's important that we accept that our habits and behavior patterns are now a rapidly moving target.

When designing interactive systems we generally work within two basic constraints: technology and interaction design. We must ask ourselves, What are the limitations for information delivery, retrieval and display? And, What are the limitations for users' ability to easily comprehend and work the interface?

In the early days of interaction design, we were constrained by the basic vocabulary of online interactions and limited delivery: minimal graphics, hyperlinks, system buttons, checkboxes, radio buttons and the mouse. Now we have pinch, slide, swipe, double tap, shake, two-finger tap, and rich graphical capabilities.

It has always been the challenge for interaction design to create products and experiences that people understand and find intuitive. However, the threshold for understanding and using an interface has increasingly been lowered. As different design patterns are introduced (modal pop-ups, accordion menus, more rich and dynamic graphical displays, 3-D, etc.), overall, users have become more resilient in engaging with and figuring out how to master the interface. Our design palette is growing, and our audience is more accepting and determined.

This presents new opportunities for us to be more daring and to push for innovative experiences that will evolve our heuristics. We no longer need to underestimate what people will and won't do. It's a brave new world for fearless designers and architects who are ready to choreograph new experiences rather than recycle the safe experiences of the past. I say this as I upload family pictures into a new digital picture frame I plan to give to my mother. I hope she figures out how to use it. 

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