User interface trends

Alan Dix
Talis and University of Birmingham

abstract of presentation at Symposium on Natural User Interfaces, Augmented Reality and Beyond: Challenges at the Intersection of HCI and Computer Vision - 18-21 November 2013

Full reference:
A. Dix (2013). User interface trends. Symposium on Natural User Interfaces, Augmented Reality and Beyond: Challenges at the Intersection of HCI and Computer Vision - 18-21 November 2013.


There are three main things which affect the user interface: (i) changes in technology, (ii) changes in the world we live, and (iii) changes in our understanding of these and hence in the way we work as a theoretical and practical discipline.  These are of course not independent, the technologies we investigate and develop are determined in part by the context we work in, and certainly society is changing due to technology.

Changes in technology: This is the main thrust of this workshop.  On the one hand, things are becoming more virtual, we see the world through web and social networks, both for good (matchmaking and finding lost relations) and ill (cyber bullying).  However. we are also seeing more physical interactions such as 3D printing.  In between are technologies, which mix the two, location-aware applications, Kinect, Google Glass, and in-space haptics.  Furthermore, these technologies are becoming increasingly commoditised and ubiquitous.  A modern railway carriage has over 300 microprocessors on board, and the intelligent lighting I have worked on has a microprocessor for every single LED.  It is dangerous to guess what next, but certainly new materials may soon make it possible to have shape shifting objects, to make every surface modifiable not just in appearance (the ultimate limit of Weiser's ubiquitous displays) but also in texture.

Changes in the word: While we should be wary of simplistic technological determinism, technology does affect society.  Fifty years ago, Lynn White argued that it was the invention of the stirrup that gave rise to European feudalism, and the intimate role of social media in the Arab Spring has shown that the impact of information technology on social structure is no less profound today.  We are already 'on the far side' of the shift from work-focused to domestic and leisure focused interaction design, where user experience is a more critical feature than usability.  The growing maker culture is perhaps signalling another change that challenges the still centrally-focused mass customisation with a more human-scale new craftsmanship.  In a crazily paced world of constant information and micro-sociality, is there a need for designing for solitude and the 'slow time' paces of life? And maybe all of this is simply froth of the billion who have an excess of technology and there are new issues to face for the next billion and the five billion after.

Changes in the discipline:  We can follow these trends, working out how to use new technology to address new needs, but it is not clear that the deep needs of society will be met by the commercial drivers of new technology.  Sometimes we need to make trends, both technologically and socially.  In particular to address the coming billions, or for that matter those at the margins of western society, it may well be that we need smarter design for less smart technology.

User Interface Trends from Alan Dix




Alan Dix 21/10/2013