Tim Beidel, Director of Interactive Development
Tim started his career as a journalist, transitioned to work for a couple software companies and came to VIA in 2000 to establish the digital offering – which has grown exponentially under his watch. He oversees the customer experience in all things digital and keeps VIA connected on the latest apps, gadgets, games, social platforms and Bob Dylan news. Tim’s blog covers VIA’s digital work, trends and the next big thing.
The small screen is bringing back nightmares of those old VCR remotes. You know, back when the joke was that no one could program their VCR.
It was no joke.
Thirty years of user-centered design techniques later, we have the Tivo remote, with buttons clustered by task and importance. A great move forward:
But the big breakthrough for ease of use came not just with re-thinking the physical remote. Cheap processing power and big TV screens enabled interaction designers to use the screen with the physical remote, tailoring interfaces for a task by highlighting what’s important and removing everything else.
Big Web sites have a ton of information for a wide variety of audiences. They’re a bear to organize and design. But they benefit from the same kind of trends: Higher bandwidth and bigger screens have allowed us to put a lot of choices in front of our customers. If organized well (using user-centered design techniques), customers can generally find what they are looking for, even when there are a lot of ways to go:
Designing for phones is another matter. And if smartwatches make it, the design job gets even harder. The small screen demands ruthlessness in your design decisions, stripping away anything that gets in the way of someone’s task.
The good news for companies that have gotten smart about Web design is that the design drill for the small screen is the same:
- Understand what someone is trying to do, and make her ability to do it the focus of the design. “The function for us is the starting point and the target of every design,” said legendary designer Dieter Rams. In interactive design, words to live by.
- Understand the context in which someone is using your site. Are they on their phone? Are they on a tablet? Are they using their tablet while watching TV? (Cable and satellite TV companies are smartly integrating tablet apps that control their boxes.) Then reduce the choices to what is absolutely necessary in that context.
- Prototype and test. What looks like it will work on the drawing board (even to experts) often fails in practice. Testing enables you to see your design problem with the eyes of someone new to the design.