The Expanding Web

What do we do when the web expands to every component in our lives?


In a way, we’ve seen it coming.


Desktops gave way to smartphones, bringing our products physically closer to people. Now the internet shows promise to take the web out of browsers and into everyday devices – from refrigerators to assembly lines to parking monitors to band-aids that monitor your pulse. Many computers and devices already use geolocation; other sensors are sure to follow.


But there’s a problem. Our products are built for screens. A variety of sizes, sure, but there’s always been a piece of glass between us and our users.


It is important to remember that “design” is not only a visual pursuit, in fact, only a small part of a user’s experience is based on a screen. Design is about more than something you can see and touch. Interaction might come from a spoken word, a location, or sensor data (like a weak heartbeat). The thing we need to learn from our mistakes is that our job is to solve an ever changing set of problems/interactions/goals. We can’t hold too tightly to solutions that worked in the past.

I don’t think we know what’s coming exactly, but I think if anything, we’ve learned to adapt. Adjusting to the responsive web was really hard for a lot of people, and for the most part, those that came out ahead seemed to revel in the challenge. We’re still breaking down the barriers of “what a website looks like,” and I think this is a natural progression to the next phase of what the web can be. Phones were a good middle ground to prepare us for what’s next.

I think we’ll see a lot simpler interfaces, and I hope that the trimming of bloat that happened with responsive web design will continue (or accelerate) once we start breaking out of traditional screens.

Along those lines, I also think interfaces will become a lot more specialized. As technology has more touchpoints during the day, and we have more data about what people are doing, what we offer can become smarter. If you’re gearing up for a run, maybe tech can tell that you’ve put your running shoes on, and tech could learn to suggest a workout playlist, versus  you digging through spotify to find one.


If we think of design more as problem solving, then design has no limit.