Disappearing Pixels

I’ve been thinking a lot about being a designer in this day and age. With things like Oculus Rift, Apple Watch, Bitcoin, and Mobile leading new tech trends, I constantly think about where we stand.

I think a designer’s job is to make things understandable and usable. For example, in the case of Bitcoin, a consumer doesn’t need to know how it works, just like they don’t need to know how browsers or TCP/IP works. As a designer, we start with the user first then work backwards towards the technology.

Currently I work a lot on marketing, front-end, and mobile. It’s nice being able to build rather than just purely design. I think design is the most fun, but so is seeing ideas you have come to fruition. I constantly go back and forth and wonder if being a jack of all trades vs purely a designer was the correct choice to make.

I think it’s important to be able to build something from the ground up, or atleast have a good friend that doesn’t mind working with you on any idea you may have. This became more clear as I work on a side project that doesn’t involve pixels really. It’s an app that let’s you know when new Netflix movies come out. It primarily lives on the push notification layer, with maybe one view if you swipe into the app. If I could only design things and not build, I could spend a day mocking up a bunch of different screens. I could get into gestures, and transitions. But the core function of the app is letting a user know when a new movie has come out that they might be interested in. Text can be pretty sufficient. Imagine a white screen with a simple title and description. That will do the job. You could then add things like, watch later, remind me later, watch trailer, a nice image from imdb, actors, etc. As someone who just designs, I could see myself going out of control on those different aspects. Adding feature after feature, getting things nice visually. But at the end of the day, being notified that a new movie is out is the core problem to solve.

So what if we thought about how we could reduce as many visual elements as possible. If we just used the stock push notification, with its limited characters, what becomes important? The title? The rating? The description? How much can you fit in that little space? When should you send the push notification? How can you get better at sending the right push notification?

A lot of the fun comes from exploring these aspects and seeing the product come to life. Seeing your phone light up with a test notification. Then doing an api request and seeing a list of movies as a JSON response. Finally seeing one of those movies show up in the push notification. At this point, we still haven’t designed any pixels, yet 90% of the functionality is there.

I think a lot of apps and experiences in the future will have these attributes as well. If you think about the watch, beacons, bitcoin, etc. Interfaces can be invisible. We can be prompted purely by vibrations from the watch, a quick message on the screen that you’re near something important, or confirmations that a trade was made successfully (either visually, or physically through vibrations, or sound).

As a designer in this day and age, we have access to a lot more inputs and outputs that aren’t visual at all. The pixels start to disappear and it becomes more important to experiement with experiences. I believe being able to build to get to that stage becomes even more important, since it allows us to feel and experience what we imagine in our daily lives.