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Leap Motion: Your future interface?

The last few years have seen a slow shift in interfaces and displays for computers and media devices.  What does that mean for the future of web design?  Let’s look at the three big changes and where they might be going.

Gesture Controls

The Leap Motion device has garnered a lot of attention lately because of its unique interface.  It allows you to control applications by holding your hands in the air and making various gestures, somewhat reminiscent of the movie “Minority Report”.  While I find it to be a very fun device to use, it’s simply not practical for hours of use every day.  The primary issue is that your arms tire quickly, and gesture-based interfaces are not likely to be the best solution for most applications.

Here is a short video of me using it to fly around in Google Earth:

Even if gesture-based controls take off, it’s unlikely to cause a major shift in web design techniques for a while.

3D Displays

3D movies and (to a lesser extent) tv shows have been growing in popularity over the past few years, but things seem to be fading a bit.  The BBC recently put all of their 3D content “on hold” due to lack of interest from their viewers, and 3D movies have been suffering a bit lately.  That said, the future is a bit fuzzy in this area.  As directors learn to record in a way that benefits 3D, and as the technology continues to improve, there is a chance 3D could regain some ground.

If 3D really takes off, what does that mean for your website?  I would expect we’ll see some techniques to make your site 3D to some degree, but it’ll likely be similar to the all-Flash interfaces of the past decade; cool to look at and share with your friends, but more difficult for the end user to get things done.

It’s similar to some of the ridiculous “hacking” scenes that you’ll find in movies.  Lots of eye candy, but completely unrealistic and wildly unusable.  For example, here is this clip from the James Bond “Skyfall” movie:

Touch Interfaces

Touch interfaces, such as on your cell phone and tablet, certainly aren’t going anywhere.  Steve Jobs convinced everyone that your finger was a much better tool to use on a mobile device than a stylus, and he was absolutely right.  But is touch the future of all computer interaction?

Microsoft seems to think so, as they’re really pushing to add touch to all of their devices.  The problem with that is you end up with a similar problem as gesture based controls, especially on larger screens — tired arms.  While I don’t think that touch-based controls will ever completely overtake more efficient devices like keyboards and mice, they’re certainly here to stay.  So what does that mean for your website?  Two big things:

1 – Make sure it’s mobile responsive
No matter what kind of device someone uses to view your site, make sure they get a solid layout.  Most notably, you need to be sure your site can easily be navigated with large fingers on a small screen when necessary.

2 – Don’t rely on drop-down menus
This is a growing problem; counting on people to be able to access your dropdown menus.  Using dropdowns can be very tricky on a mobile device, so you should always offer multiple paths to the content.

For example, notice the “Our Services” tab at the top of our site.  There are a handful of dropdowns from that menu, but you can also click the main “Our Services” button to be taken to a page that lists all of those sub-pages again.  That way, if a user is on a device that makes the use of dropdowns difficult, they can simply click on the main tab and then dig into the subpages from there.

Speed always wins

In the end, speed always wins.  A new interface can be cool and fun, but unless it helps you to accomplish more in a shorter period of time, you’re likely to drop it before too long.

Where do you see the future of daily computer use heading?

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Mickey Mellen

Co-Founder and Technical Director

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