I've been watching the first series of the excellent ‘Halt and Catch Fire’, the US series depicting one company’s race to create an industry battering laptop, set in early 80s Silicon Prairies. Sure, I’m a little late to the party (the show is now in its third season) but watching it has made me appreciate just how far we, and technology, have come in the last 30 years. More than that, it made me think about where we might be in the next 30.
Automation, AI, speech control - all things that have gained pace in the last few years. The thing that gets me thinking though is - what will the Internet actually look like?
But will it actually look like anything? Will the progression of voice control mean the interface we currently use to access the Internet be redundant? Amazon’s recently launched Echo certainly seems to be making moves in that direction. Just tell Alexa what you need and it’s done (well, within reason). And beyond that? Will the continued developments in brain and thought visualisation mean that we no longer need to interact with anything at all, we could simply think commands? Maybe. But that’s clearly a long way off.
What about something more realistic?
I’ve recently seen a huge increase in advertising for DIY website builders. Their terrible templates, their vanilla design and generic creative. How dare they commoditise and simplify my skillset into a meaningless $9 a month, all-in-deal. (Although, there is definitely a market for it).
But are they actually doing us all a favour?
Over the last 20 years, all the clients I’ve encountered have the same questions and problems. How can I get my users to where I want them to go on my website? How can my website be better than my competitor’s? How can you as an agency ensure the user journey is as efficient as it can be?
And as an agency, its our problem to solve. Different clients + different products + different users = different websites. But every user is actually doing the same thing - finding something.
Whether you’re looking for a new shirt in red, or wondering how tall the Eiffel tower is, we are all (mostly) going to the Internet with a question. Finding the answer is where we start to encounter problems.
Different websites. Different buttons. Different colours. Different material. Different devices. Our quest for finding answers efficiently is inhibited by our own, constantly evolving experiences of the Internet.
Sure, this is getting easier as the Internet matures, for example, responsive design means there are finite ways of displaying content across all devices, and there are certainly commonalities in best practice for ecommerce and design etc. But what if we made it really easy to use the Internet? Like, ‘don’t make me think’, easy.
What if the Internet followed just one template?
Everything was a standard shape, colour and layout. What if all the buttons on every website were one colour for primary actions and one for secondary? What if all websites had a specific size of image and were limited to just one (I know, I’m kind of describing Wikipedia here, but think sexier). A functional, content first approach that’s good for everyone - The People’s Internet.
Yes, it would be incredibly boring. But think of the UI win. Think about the hours gained by knowing where to find the answer you’re looking for before you’ve even asked the question. Maybe Jakob Neilson really was on to something after all. For the early years, he was ignored by the majority of designers (myself included) who just wanted to push the boundaries of this new platform to see what was under the hood (I made some pretty amazing Flash preloaders in the early days).
Whatever we think the Internet might look like in the future, there’s no getting past the fact that it’s still in its infancy and its original guise. And things don’t stay like that for long.
As we mature as an audience and more so, as the younger audience, who have never known anything else but the Internet, begin to enter their ‘let’s change the world’ phase of their life and careers, I believe we’ll see some changes that none of us could predict.
Cam Brewer, Creative Director at Rally.