In 2011 the entire tech ecosystem descended toward entropy. Devices and services had a harder time playing together, and simply choosing what to use became an occasion for a flowchart. Some of the simplest tech questions — How should I send a text message to a friend? Which video phone service should I use? — are now hopelessly fraught.
There’s a big opportunity, in 2012 and beyond, for startups that attempt to solve the complexity problem.
“Complexity should be abstracted, synthesized down to the simplest possible interface for instant gratification, with the shortest possible learning curve—that is the wave of the future.”
Michael Okuda's and Gene Roddenberry's emphasis on ease of use as driving factor behind technology made their devices seem prescient. I enjoyed this Ars Technica discussion of Star Trek's PADD versus today's iPad, and what happens when the software defines how the device can be used.
Interestingly, Okuda notes part of his emphasis on simplicity originally came from budget constraints. This is another example of my theory that price vs performance need not be a trade off. By aiming for simplicity and elegance instead, technologists can achieve higher performance at a lower cost.
Technology often develops from primitive to complicated to simple. The web develops faster and more client focussed than traditional technologies. Web development is cheaper, more flexible and most importantly: everyone can contribute to its development. In concrete terms: Better interaction design, less graphic design. Better user experience, less debates about taste. Faster technology, more reliable design standards.
Simplicity. iA points out most sites are still too hard to use. In our web design profession, we sometimes forget the users who think "screenshot" means taking a picture of the computer with their camera. Sites need to focus on a rational business model, simplify to do it well, and be approachable for non-insiders.
Speed. Physical interfaces offer instant feedback. Flipping through People magazine is far faster using paper than online. Web sites need to be designed for fewer clicks with less latency. Using them needs to feel fluid. iPhone apps such as Tweetie 2 are getting there.
Beauty. User experience isn't the skin, it's the interface. Designers need to work more on interaction style than visual style—less on what the CEO wants and more on what the end user needs.
Applying these, iA sees trends towards getting design out of the way and unifying user interfaces, through tools such as standardized web fonts, grid layouts, and UI libraries such as jQuery.