Touching the future of Web user experience

Like millions of other fanboys out there I listened intently to every word Steve Jobs uttered this morning at Apple’s Back to the Mac event.

We heard all about a new version of the desktop OS (Lion, to be released next summer), Facetime on the Mac (boom!), some incremental improvements to Apple’s iLife suite and a smaller, faster MacBook Air.

But this isn’t a post about Apple’s new product lineup.

It’s about something Job said in introducing Lion. He commented on that ways in which Apple’s experience with the iPad influenced their most recent take on the desktop. #1 on the list: people really like multi-touch gestures. So, Apple’s going to be building gesture recognition even deeper into their desktop OS.

They’re calling the feature Mission Control.

Rethinking your website for multi-touch

Ideas about how touch will effect Web user experience have been rolling around in my mind for a while now. But today signaled something big.

And it makes a question Marc, Brian and I have asked often in the course of recent client engagements so much more important:

When the mouse stops being the only way – and, soon perhaps, even the preferred way – most people interact with the Web, how must the websites we design and experiences we create change?

Here are a few of the simplest answers to that question:

  1. Fat fingers do poorly with tiny links. Sprinkling dozens of links in your navigation will no longer be acceptable. This will likely result in some hard debates about what really merits inclusion in your top-level nav.
  2. There’s no such thing as hover states. Revealing additional information through tooltips, flyouts or dropdowns is just an excuse to add noise. Simplicity will rule. Touch once to succeed.
  3. Forget the fold. So much of what we once did with our websites was obsessed with being “Above the fold”. As we’ve already written, the fold is increasingly irrelevant. Moving forward, even the horizontal constraints we’ve imposed on our designs will seem antiquated. Pages will flow up, down and side to side.
  4. Make your website fun. As people explore your pages with their fingers, embed Easter Eggs for them to discover. Conventional placement of content can give way to discovery. Reward visitors with videos or extra pages for taking the time to explore your site.

jQuery, HTML5, CSS3 – these are terms you’ll likely hear bandied about in the months ahead by your web teams. They are the underlying technologies that are going to help make this new vision of the web a reality. More importantly, if you’re considering a redesign of your web site, make sure you engage a firm that can speak this language.

Future-proof yourself.

In the meantime, I’m off to play with Facetime on the Mac beta.