I’ve been developing technology based experiences in museums for the better part of two decades and I love seeing the evolution of experiences not only from the museum-perspective but as part of a change in our audiences. Visitors have become more savvy and they come with expectations and “how” to interact with technology. That’s good — we can create increasingly complex experiences and we know that people will succeed in participating.
I’m in love with the current convergence of new physical devices that are readily portable and very capable (iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads, and the suite of Android-based tablets revealed at CES this past week). Not only is there a sweet spot of great technologies in a single device, but we’re also seeing the whole interaction model and user experience substantially evolve. Where the web has conditioned us to present content in web pages and we use multiple applications every day on our desktop machines, these new devices and the rise of HTML5 are enabling singular and very focused experiences.
The iPhone and iPad both forged a path to create experiences on the application itself rather than the computing environment. When you’re in an application, that’s all you’re using and you’re not expected to be interacting with other elements of the device. There’s an elegance and simplicity to the experience that feels rewarding and very purposeful. There have been other devices that played out this paradigm, such as the OS designed for the OLPC, but these didn’t have nearly the market penetration of the iOS devices.
The next interesting point is watching more platforms embrace this approach — Google’s Chrome browser recently launched the Chrome Web Store which essentially is a pointer to HTML5-based websites. It sounds like just a place for links, but this new breed of web presence fully embraces the app model. No longer are you visiting a web page with the usual external links and support of a web browser, but you’re visiting a destination that fully supports and lives by itself. The secret bonus here is that there are a number of browsers (Safari, Firefox4, etc) that support the same technology, they just haven’t embraced quite as wholeheartedly (and we’ll leave the discussion of Google’s long-term goals for another post).
The New York Times has a great example of what I’m talking about. In the images below, you can compare the traditional website vs the Chrome App (HTML5) version. In both versions, I’ve highlighted the different kinds of content — red for content, green for navigation, and blue for settings. I have to admit that I like using the HTML5 version more. I feel like there’s more content, but more importantly that the experience is designed around me reading content. It’s an experience that’s focused on the user experience, not just getting a lot of things in front of my eyes which is how the website feels to me.
There’s also a technical beauty at work here. The HTML5 version looks and feels almost exactly like the iPad version. The interface is the same and as I resize the browser window, the content and layout automatically resizes and scales in response. The experience remains the same no matter what I do to the browser window, again focusing on the user. The website doesn’t do the same. So, we begin to think of the browser as simply a window to this new kind of dedicated experience — extrapolating, the device can change, our interface development doesn’t, or it simply accommodates the new configuration.
It’s a powerful notion, and one that opens up a whole new world of thinking about interfaces and content. It also reaffirms the value of great user experience and understanding the purpose of an experience. Doing one thing well is frequently better than doing too many things only half-well. As a company that loves content, design, and experience, the future’s looking pretty interesting.
—Bruce Wyman, Director of Creative Development