Rules for next-generation user interface design

October 21, 2015 // By EDN
James Lewis, CEO, Redux Labs
In the last decade user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers have firmly arrived into the digital landscape. They now play a vital role in the way people engage with digital devices, primarily attempting to answer the questions, "Who are our users?" and "What do they want?"

With the emergence of  tactile displays , UX designers are now being called upon to consider how a third dimension might impact on their design thinking.


Some digital designers’ applications require them to create an immersive and meaningful experience, while other applications demand that good design should strive to be invisible and entirely intuitive. Tactile interface can support either position: the former because the physicality of touch provides a more engaging sensory experience and the latter because learned ways of interacting with mechanical devices are established and instinctive: for example, to turn a knob right to increase power is an accepted convention and if applied to digital design an action that has been performed so often it may be considered subconscious.


As the discipline of UI and UX has matured and user testing in the wild has refined that process,  rules to govern digital design  have been established, for instance:












Many of these rules can be confidently applied to emerging user interface design but it is important to not be constrained by them; groundbreaking design historically emerges from a disregard of established rules. However, rules remain a good place to start and this raises the question of what rules can or should be applied to emerging forms of user interface?


Here are some suggestions for new interface ad haptic design rules:


The rule of leveraging the medium

The discipline of tactile digital interface is in its infancy, as yet there are few established conventions and nothing that could be described as a given language of touch control. In this absence it is logical for a haptic designer to replicate conventional digital controls with the addition of an extruded edges and to strive to replicate mechanical sensations. This is fine and adds much to the user experience but there are surely as yet unseen ways, categorically different ways in which the old visual language of interaction may be surpassed. 


The rule of sensation

As a branding exercise there is much to be said for a tactile sensation that reaches beyond that which a sound or a look might evoke: the feel of a zip, of a shiny conker, of styrofoam. The memory of movement and touch is powerful that may be evoked in powerful ways.


Rule of pairing

When you pair touch with sight so you can feel something that you can see it becomes more like the real world. If the click of a light switch always accompanies the light going on then the sensory experience is uninterrupted; you feel it, you press it, and at the point that you expect you feel it move, hear it click, and see the lights go on. If all is fine it doesn’t enter your consciousness, it just happens. If something is wrong - switch is too floppy or too stiff, it squeaks rather than clicks, or a bulb doesn’t light or if the light and the sound do not occur at the same time then it immediately enters your consciousness