As designers we are naturally optimistic, always on the lookout for opportunities to design new and meaningful experiences. And recent years software and service development has given us reason to be optimistic. A sensation that something new and game changing is about to happen in software design has started to grow. We have gone from “there are loads of potential for new applications or services in this or that area”, to “there’s a bunch of apps for mostly everything”. And they’re working better, smoother and faster across platforms and services. We are nowhere near to be done with this paradigm, but the development is signaling that something is about to change. As more services and applications are being developed, purchased and downloaded, it has become problematic to keep track of and maintain the ones we have.
Desires have turned into expectations
For several years Veryday (formerly known as Ergonomidesign) has been working with Microsoft as design partners, and while doing so we have been able to watch the transformation process courtside. In the process of developing apps and strategies for various business areas, It has become clear to us that the metro interface and now the W8 OS means a new mindset for users and designer alike.
So thinking of the W8 OS which is the latest contribution to the software landscape, touch first thinking seems like a natural next step tying together the ecosystem of services and devices. Apple are taking comfortable steps in the same direction, and noteworthy in that context is the Launchpad introduced in OSX lion to resemble the springboard in their iOS – Although not introduced as the menu of first choice, I’m sure it will play a more important role in future releases. Google are also redesigning Chrome to be more touch friendly, providing a better experience on their Android OS, thus completing their cloud based OS ecosystem. All these developments are driven by users demanding more convenient and seamless experiences across devices.
These demands have turned into expectations of service offerings. However, while services and applications have grown more sophisticated, efforts to bridge platforms, aggregate information and facilitate exchange with other services have all been developed. While on the one hand these effort have helped users connect to the desired information, they are making simple applications increasingly complex to both use and develop.
Our digital backpack
Services try hard to make sure users are kept satisfied and often succeed in keeping them snared in their ecosystem. A problem when introducing a new service is that users already have a set of services that they invested their time and personal content into and trying something new often means having to do less of something else. Statistically while we download a lot of applications onto our smartphone and tablets, we only actually use a small number of these.
We have a number of applications on our devices we use for repeated use cases. Applications that we are faithful too tend to be used across platforms or as part of self-made ecosystem that engage different applications to accomplish an important tasks. We don’t really get rid of applications just get more of them. Can we have too many applications? Many of us already do.
Cross service experiences potentially allows one service to focus on its core experience, becoming a complete ecosystem by harnessing others services.
From monologuing to dialoguing
I believe that Microsoft has taken an important step, by creating a simple way for services to share information with each other, putting an end to service monologuing. It’s been made possible through what they call “Contracts”. For those who are not familiar with Contracts, its a way for any service to tell other services “this is the information I’m willing to share”, and reversely “hey can I get this from you?”. And adding the Bing search engine makes it much like the old card game Go Fish.
These cross service experiences potentially allows one service to focus on its core experience, becoming a complete ecosystem by harnessing other services. Which those other services may be will depend on the user and the use case. So by letting users find their own way of using the information exchanged between apps, they will come up with new use cases and ways that we designers could not anticipate. Allowing experiences to be extended across services, makes service experiences richer by utilizing information from others. An application becomes more of a starting point in an experience journey rather than an isolated island.
One can further imagine that experience journey as described above, will make specific services more viable as long as the touch point of the information provided can contribute to making enough other services better. Often, specific services that focuses on a core experience gives less reason for frustration than the ones that try and accomplish too many things.
Take for instance a video streaming service, that is specialized in delivering high quality video experiences. One of the core use cases is discovery, knowing which to watch. By adding the power of IMDB data, youtube trailers and social commenting, the song I’m listening to, the shortlist of a well renowned film critic, my location, what’s airing at the local cinema or recently on the news, or any other service that can help our associations while in discovery would greatly improve the selecting procedure.
No video service has the capability to be all of these and I’m glad they’re not trying. We find this information elsewhere, but I imagine getting access to that information right there and then would make the experience so much greater.
I see this evolvement as a more organic development of applications and services, where it suddenly becomes easier to find the voids and the empty spaces that are the opportunities for design. And despite the fact that i don’t need an application for everything in life, it suddenly makes more sense and becomes more viable to design applications that do one thing very well.
For users, service experiences can become more serendipitous, to find interesting content by using your own chosen services as filters. This will lead to better content. What is really exciting is that we can’t yet foresee how that mindset will be applied to more complex business challenges, “the internet of things” or new startup opportunities. It is a great time to be developing new services.