2011: A Year in Interface Design

This is a summary of what happened in the world of interface and interaction design in 2011.

The Desktop Identity Crisis

After a series of leaks, Microsoft unveiled the eigth major iteration of its ubiquitous desktop operating system. Based on the Metro design language that they introduced previously on mobile, Windows 8 is touted as a “no-compromise” OS that offers the best of both worlds—a strategy that will likely continue to be a hot topic for years to come.

Meanwhile, Apple was busy shipping OS X Lion, a milestone update that brought multi-touch gestures, native fullscreen support, and other iOS-inspired interface elements to the desktop OS. They also made sure to upset legions of users by changing the scroll paradigm to match their mobile implementation. Mac third-party apps are coming in all sorts of flavors, and the somewhat unified look and feel of yore gave place to a hodgepodge of visual styles and design patterns: popovers, pull-to-refresh, icon-based tab navigation, monochrome icons, you name it.

Social Innovation

Google+ is the new kid in the block, and eveyone is talking about it. Led by Andy Hertzfeld, a prominent member of the original Macintosh team, the fledgling social network is showing more promise than all of Google’s previous attempts to make a dent in the social space.

Meanwhile, Facebook upset its users once again with a radical redesign of the timeline. They sort of made up for it with a redesigned iOS app and official iPad support.

Twitter is still trying to make its product less intimidating to new users and more accommodating to advertisers. Alas, they got rid of all swipe gestures in the iPhone app and with it the last vestiges of delight from the Tweetie era.

Speaking of delight, Path has managed to steal the spotlight from the trio above when they released a revamped UI that packed a healthy amount of playful interactions and experimental design patterns.

Honorable Mentions

Web, Native, or Hybrid?

The debate has shifted from Web vs. Native to the UX implications of Web views, a new hybrid technique that involves displaying Web pages within native containers. Even though Web views have been widely adopted in the mobile space, they have yet to prove their worth considering the UX inconsistencies they introduce.

Gestures vs. Buttons

The transition to gestural interfaces is dividing the design community. As users, our interaction mental model is currently in disarray; we can hardly keep up with the overwhelming number of new gestures that we have to learn every day. As designers, striking the balance between ease of use, memorability, and discoverability is becoming increasingly hard in the lack of industry-wide standards.

The question is no longer whether a radical shift is underway, but rather how we can cope with it next year and beyond.

Goodbye 2011, welcome 2012.