The Future of Web Interfaces at WDN

Author and designer Cameron Adams explained to a packed house at Web Directions North today how web interfaces are moving forward from its current static state to a “dynamic interface” model. Flexibility, in terms of font size and availability, use of Javascript and other features are already available to customize the user experience, but as of yet custom layouts for end users have not been widely implemented. Designing these interface isn’t easy, Adams said. Creating a customizable interface means making smart decisions at every step to make sure the user gets exactly what what they want.

Adams highlighted several trends that are driving interface design. The first is the rise of user-driven content, such as people putting their lives online and participating in social networks. People are also becoming information omnivores, going straight to data sources and bypassing anything that gets in their way. Customization can go out of control, and Adams cited Myspace as an example of bad customization. Twitter, which allows for modifying wallpaper on a page, and Flickr, which allows custom layouts of photos, were cited as good design choices.

Adams also cited iGoogle as an example of a site that allows users to create a customized home page. Widgets also allow for customization, though current offerings are more “expand-o collapse-o” than truly functional, he said.

XML allows for much in the way of customization, as does CSS, so the technology is already in place, Adams said. Javascript also serves to fill the gaps on different browsers.

On the server side, more granularity is needed, as well as noting user behaviours and adapting accordingly. Adams also noted that the usefulness of dynamic interfaces changes depending on how you use a site. If a user uses a site regularly and decides upon multiple visits how they need to use the site, a dynamic interface becomes increasingly important.

Game design is a good example of how to approach the web, Adams said. Current games have destructive environments, which totally changes the way games are played from earlier “point-and-shoot” environments. In the same way, bandwidth prices fall and browsers improve, so technology isn’t a barrier for long. It’s more important for designers to mentally challenge themselves and adapt interfaces to the needs of users.