I’ve recently become fascinated with the history of the technology industry and following a recommendation from Seb, have been reading ‘10 Print Chr (205.5+Rnd(1)); : Goto 10‘. Try saying that 10 times fast!

Reading this and other books, has made me realise that as an industry we have a rather major flaw – we often focus too much on the innovative, the new and “shiny”. Often losing sight that further back, someone else, albeit in another case or format, has had experiences that we can learn from and apply to our current work.

I’m lucky enough to be of an age that my first experiences of computing were on relatively advanced hardware and operating systems – Windows 95, if I recall correctly. However, go back another 10 years or so and it was a rather different story. Devices like the Commodore, Acorn Electron and Atari were very basic and rather than having isolated devices, they were plugged into family’s TV sets in order to display games and graphics.

Fast forward to today and we have a plethora of devices at our disposal, and the range of content now being used on these has grown significantly. As designers and developers within this industry, we are facing a big challenge of making consumable content for all of these.

For the past few years, the focus has been on small screen devices and mobile. Responsive Web Design, a term coined by Ethan Marcotte back in 2010, has been an invaluable tool for meeting this challenge head-on.

But now we are seeing a resurgence in larger screens being used for online browsing; TV’s are one instance growing in popularity quite quickly.

Steve Workman recently gave a talk at SideView titled ‘Are you browsing comfortably?‘ which looks at this trend.

Some statistics he raises:

  • 7 million households can get the internet on their TV (39%)
  • 7% of households have a SMART TV
  • Over half of all households have a games console

Half of all households have a games console. Games consoles which are more than likely plugged into their TV’s. Sound familiar?

Can we learn from past experiences?

As a culture, we very quickly moved away from utilising our TV’s for computing in preference of personal computer. Whether that be in the format of desktops, laptops, tablets or phones. Yet, we are now back to plugging devices into our TV’s.

When trying to tackle this challenge of making our user interfaces consumable on these large devices, can we look to past experiences and trends to come up with solutions? Trying not to re-invent the wheel comes to mind.

Due to the capabilities of the hardware and software at the time, the content which was predominately consumed on Atari’s, Commodores and the like, were graphic and game based.

Are we likely to see similar content being consumed now? Content which benefits from a communal aspect such as video, music and games? Or is it likely written-content driven websites?

Having an understanding of this will help us better target the focus of our user interfaces.

Not just hardware

This repeat behaviour is not just limited to hardware. We are always looking to evolve our user interfaces through interaction and animation – much like we used to see in Flash websites.

A lot of the groundwork has already been made by Flash developers as to solutions to the problems we are facing today. How do we handle velocity, easing, or 3D within our animations?

So whilst Flash may be considered a dead technology, we can take a lot of this learning and apply it to newer technologies such as HTML5 Canvas.

Obligatory caveat

What article is complete without a caveat? It is worth saying that any new technology, be it hardware or software, is regurgitated from the past, or evolved from the past. Far from it.

New innovations are being made and released all the time – for example we are seeing more and more examples of ‘wearable technology’. Something which hasn’t necessarily been explored before.

The key point is to assess a “shiny new toy”, and check whether there is correlation to something else that we can look at past experiences and iterations of. To see how they can be learnt from in order to evolve our thinking further, how our processes can be improved and ensure user’s experience is the best it can be.