Gestural, Wearable, Neural – the new pillars of interaction design

Published:  March 27, 2013
Nev Fordyce
Gestural, Wearable, Neural – the new pillars of interaction design

The recent years have not been kind to the digital designer, known for such loathed design trends as the Web2.0 glass buttons and reflections, and more recently the fad of skeuomorphic interface design. The digital designer is thought of as a harbinger of cringe to the world of design, cool cat gifs excluded.

Arriving back from SXSW this week, I was struck by the opportunity to break out of the two dimensional and heavily-formulaic world of web and app design. This is an exciting time to be a digital designer, as the future of digital interaction is all around us.

In a 2010 TED Talk, Anthropologist Amber Case spoke of her ability to document the evolution of a new species, something that has never happened before, a bit of a science once-off. Case has had the opportunity to hypothesise and record the birth of the cyborg. Now, some may say this is a little premature, but her argument is quite compelling – by definition, the regular use of our smartphones has enabled us to augment ourselves, creating the version 1 Cyborg. What many have touted as the rise of the ‘Digital Native’, may be better described as the arrival of the ‘Digital Born’.

This new species will benefit extensively by the promise of the three new pillars of interaction design. Through the implementation of gestural, wearable and neural technologies the Digital Born will simplify their everyday life, amplify their learned knowledge, and even extend their natural life.

  • Leap Motion, is weeks away from shipping globally. Its ability to recognise such an immense set of unique gestures will make you wonder why we spent so long pushing a 1×1px cursor around our screens.
  • Myo, among others, is an example of how technology is finally able to provide the level of dexterity available to the human hand.
  • The Emotiv EPOC headset may look a little clunky for now, but as our knowledge of brain signals increases, our ability to translate thoughts, feelings, and expressions into data may just do away with the need for any hand-based gesture once and for all.

Leap Motion in use


Myo in use

These technologies are maturing at such a rapid pace, developers can start playing around with all three of these without needing to shell out much more than $1000. And with such a low barrier to entry, applications for these controls will soon be available in our phones, our clothes, and embedded in our transportation.

Like many others hoping to be present for a consumer release of the long-awaiting ‘hoverboard’, I attended SXSW this past week. And while I was once again hoverboard-less, I was impressed with the quality of the conversations occurring in Austin, not just on the panels, but in the street wherever you could get free WIFI or a much needed taco. These discussions focused around more than just how these technologies and associated software is evolving – you could clearly hear the need to identify profitable business executions and more importantly opportunities for social good; health, education, and of course communication.

The conversations featured more than your typical (insert hipster cartoon here) industry types, it pervaded all stereotypes. From social scientists, to industrial designers, makers, hackers and even global corporate consultants. The writing is on the wall, the device of the future is not is the smartphone in your hand or the tiny screen attached to your slick new glasses – the device of the future is everywhere.

But with the advent of this opportunity, a number of concerns must be addressed – quality user experience is paramount and interoperability is imperative. Each of the devices of the future must communicate with eachother in a common language, a simple method for maintaining and optimising our devices (read: world) must be developed.

The collaboration between industrial, product and digital design will be an amazing melting pot, but it will be the interface design that will be technology’s face for people the world over. One will not simply be able to define which neuron, triggers which light-switch, without a useful heads-up display.

It is truly an exciting time for digital design, more than just redesigning our favourite social app or bird-tossing game for new devices, the modern digital designer will be tasked to bring together the multitude of digital interactions we will have in the future. Whether it is our self-navigating shoes, or our astral-travelling microholiday vending machines, the digital designer must understand the new interaction design paradigm – for even the design process itself will be powered by gestural, wearable and neural.

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