Crystal gazing

It’s not just the economic slowdown that’s holding back the tide of progress in the interactive sector – timidity and a failure to consider the end-user are also factors. Suzanne Hinchliffe asks nine activists how they see the future panning out

What are the key drivers for the future and the untapped opportunities in your particular area of interaction design, and what are the deterrents to change?

What drives the desire for the use of sound and immersive and interactive technologies? In a nutshell, it’s about the slow process of education and the amazing possibilities for altering experiences on both the grand scale and more domestic/small-scale levels. Experiential events and ‘happenings’ – particularly using immersive sound – are becoming more and more sought after, as organisations find new ways to excite, stimulate and engage their clients. As soon as these organisations see the benefits of a visionary approach, they themselves become evangelists, and so the process continues. Deterrents to change are obvious – being risk-averse, and a lack of vision (and daring) in difficult economic times – but I believe successful companies will see the fantastic opportunities to innovate and thrive.
Martyn Ware, Sound designer

One of the more positive developments that I have seen over the past few years is the proliferation and accessibility of tools, online tutorials and examples. Flash has been a big part of this, and recent projects like Processing, Open Frameworks and Kodu are allowing a new generation of designers and artists to work on increasingly complex pieces by providing the tools and, crucially, the support of a community. However, this freedom can also mean that technologies and techniques are being used just because they are available, or that new and unnecessary layers of complexity are being added. The end-user is often forgotten, asked to do too much or expected to understand the language of interaction design, creating an unsatisfying experience for both user and designer.
Ross Phillips, Creative technical director, Show Studio

As technology becomes all-pervasive, I hope the future lies in its transparency, its invisibility, its inconspicuousness. For most people, technology is a turn-off, simply a means to an end. It’s the experience that interests us, not the clever doohickey in your pocket or under the pavement.
We’ve been experimenting for years with scents and smells, with basically hopeless results. It would be lovely to find better ways to create and then completely eliminate a scent quickly – there is no more immediately emotional response than to smell and we have some strong ideas here.
Generally, I think audiences are becoming more and more sophisticated, expecting better designed, and more magical urban experiences. This is an exciting challenge for artists and designers, and one we relish.
Andrew Shoben, Founder, Greyworld

What stands in the way of untapped opportunity for most businesses is perception. What I see time and time again is under-investment in digital, and this stems from the perception that digital is a peripheral concern, not a central one. Under-investment, not just in terms of finance, but also in the lack of senior, digital-savvy, empowered leaders, structured into these companies so they can really make a difference. The danger, of course, is that if this attitude continues, the open market will correct it with more aggressive, efficient, effective entrants that are built around not just digital technology, but the whole embedded attitude and cultural sensibility that will make them succeed in this very complex and confusing environment.
Nik Roope, Creative director, Poke London

We’re seeing a growing demand for real-time dialogue and real-time search, which is changing expectations about how companies interact through the use of social media. Getting a consensus as to what can be communicated is often time-consuming and therefore hinders a rapid response, so companies need to be open to changing their culture and become more proactive on key issues. Added to this are resource and technical pressures which mean that many companies are still hesitant to engage in real time. However, those that do are experiencing a correlation between financial performance and deep social media engagement.
Desirée Collier, Managing director, Marsteller

It’s to be expected, I guess, but I’m really excited by everything to do with handheld devices, and the way in which computing is finally integrating itself into everyday life, beyond just the office or home entertainment console. A flurry of industry speculation has recently suggested that Apple is planning to launch a tablet computer. The smart money says it will have the hybrid functionality of the iTouch combined with the MacBook Air, the suggestion being that it would be like half a laptop, with a screen and virtual keyboard occupying the same flat body. A large multi-touch screen would naturally bypass the need for a separate keyboard and trackpad. I’m not surprised by this, as I remarked in my review of the iPhone for Design Week back in 2007 that it would be a logical (and highly desirable) way to go. Commentators are saying it sounds radical, but it actually feels pretty obvious to me. What is radical is that with it comes the implicit acknowledgement that the kind of direct interaction with visual information made possible by the iPhone screen is cutting through the world of day-to-day computing in a much more important way than has perhaps been recognised so far. The runaway success of iPhone Apps, some extremely useful, others more flippant, shows that the close physical interplay with information, through direct touch and the harnessing of spatial orientation, is fun, functional and easy to comprehend. It has proved that, once again, Apple has a fundamental understanding of what is important to ordinary people in the day-to-day world. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that this particular area of interaction design is the most exciting for me, as it looks set to provide some of the most interesting challenges. Thankfully, also, it is this kind of attitude to technology that goes a long way towards ensuring that ‘deterrents to change’ are circumvented. It is the market, and I mean both users and developers, that is now making demands of the technology, and no longer just the other way around.
Malcolm Garrett, Creative director, Applied Information Group

Constantly evolving technology, consumer expectations and the drive towards simplicity are the key drivers that keep us challenged and excited. Interaction design is a facet of human experience dating back through all civilisations, so it is ironic that, just as we finally get the (digital) tools and a limitless (technology fuelled) playground, we are paralysed by confusing terminology in an undervalued discipline where budgets are dwarfed by those of the more traditional, easy to brief, advertising sector. The only deterrents appear to be our own inability to demonstrate the value of interaction and the value of design. Clients must be persuaded and inspired to place their consumers’ experience first when they set their communication strategy – how they behave and interact needs to be designed, not a happy accident.
Daljit Singh, Director, Digit London

People lack time and need to be able to find and use things easily. We’re at the start of big developments in the way people search and share, balance work and play, and nurture and harness their own people networks. The move to cloud computing is important. Our need for information, entertainment, tools and communication will be met through several surfaces and spaces – there is an opportunity for designers to find simple, intuitive ways for people to ‘use’ the cloud. Design for people, not technology.
Ben Wolstenholme, Founder, Moving Brands

It’s the network, stupid. As more online devices link more people in more ways, the possibilities can’t help growing exponentially. Who knows what opportunities are untapped because so many people are working on innovative projects. But a great field of opportunity is emerging. Content-rich, online-enabled, personalised, interactive software is going to revolutionise our experience of travel, cookery, art, history, health, DIY, sport, finance, politics, even philosophy. Our biggest immediate challenges are economic and cultural issues on the production side; especially in the UK where we tend to focus on content and underestimate the importance of software.
Alex Morrison, Managing director, Cogapp

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