Investigating the state of UX and UI design in tech

As web and industrial design begin to collide, UX and UI design are particularly ripe for disruption.

The last major shift in design arguably occurred in the 90s as print design gave way to web design, and designers suddenly had to deal with web safe colors, alias fonts, and the information design challenges of a non-sequential medium. Two decades later, design is approaching a similarly monumental shift as designers move from designing for the web to designing for systems.

Software developers and hardware engineers are starting to face difficult — and atypically similar — questions in terms of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design as web and industrial design begin to collide. Software developers must now think about designing for hardware interfaces, and hardware engineers must now design with UX and UI in mind. This collision presents an opportunity for a tectonic shift in the design space, with the potential to spread across industries on a larger — and more personal — scale than design has experienced before. That’s why, beginning today, we’re kicking off an exploration of the companies and people experimenting with and innovating in UX and UI design.

We can already see the beginnings of this shift as wearable interfaces, such as Google Glass, Fitbit, and Jawbone, become more and more mainstream. But what about designing for a wearable computing system for assistance dogs that allows an animal to alert or even command its human? Or for a sensor system for your teeth that could monitor what you eat and drink?

Beyond wearables, how will developers and engineers adapt to ingestibles? How do you design around a locking mechanism on a car that engages based upon a pill the car’s owner has swallowed? Or, how do you design user experiences around passwords that are stored and engaged by ingestibles? And what happens when the human becomes the interface — how do you design around a medical alert system, for instance, that can download data from a patient’s tattoo, or when that tattoo can wirelessly transmit vital signs or other data in real time? And taking it a little further, what possibilities arise when users become the power sources for devices or interfaces? Or when objects themselves become the device or interface?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s facing not only software developers, but hardware and systems engineers as well. In the coming months we’ll be looking for the narratives that illuminate the changing landscape design is experiencing and that point toward innovations to come. If you know of a person, company or research program making strides in the field of UX/UI design, please drop a note in the comments section, send me an email, or reach out on Twitter.

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  • I guess I’d say only bad designers need to suddenly be aware of this trend. Has anyone noticed all the sensors on simple mobile handsets, and how much more interesting (not just small) the interaction with your mobile is over the desktop? Because lots and lots of UX designers (and IxDs, but much less UI designers) are aware there are sensors, and think of how to use them to improve the products they put on these devices.

  • RP

    EffectiveUI is really pushing the envelope in this space….

    • Jenn_Webb

      Thank you — I will check out their work!

  • Jon Bruner

    This is a fascinating topic, Jenn. Interfaces that disappear from the point of view of the user need even more careful thought on the part of UX designers.

  • AJ

    Two UI/UX offerings I pay attention to:

    • Jenn_Webb

      Thank you, AJ — interesting companies!

      • todd

        figured i would share an interesting site i found 3 days ago in regards to ux and ui job postings

  • adc50

    For what it is worth, I am involved in a long term project that aims to reconfigure user experience of the computation/internet, in part by extending the one-dimensional experience of “search” through 2-D “explore” to 3-D “discover”. This is part of a process that is driving the construction of a philosophy to support our understanding and use of computation and computers.

    We are known as “Three Way Street” but currently do not have an internet presence, hence this email.

    Two previous projects dealing with complex functionality include,>Documentation, and