Clear(ly), it’s time to say bye bye to buttons

Aynne Valencia

The buzz this week is on the new iOS app, Clear. Clear has taken the axiom “less is more” to its ultimate conclusion. Clear took a common list view and enriched it with a playful perception of depth, dynamic transitions, and crisp audio feedback, all wrapped under a minimalistic visual language and shallow navigation.

Is this “less is more” approach revolutionary? Nope.  Evolutionary? Yes, absolutely.

At Fjord, we’re betting that we will see more of this in the near future thanks to three bigger industry trends:

1.   A “mobile first” approach to features

The small-screen real estate of mobile devices has forced companies to scale down the bells and whistles and extraneous content afforded by the web, prioritizing features and services that make the most impact for the business and customer experience.

This also means that in order to be successful, these types of applications are focused on a very narrow subset of features. In the case of Clear, not only did the company select the most rudimentary functions in a to-do list, it also followed through with a minimalistic form in the interface.

Simple interface requires paring down the interactivity to its barest essence. It requires prioritizing features and focusing on the essentials needed for the desired the outcome. The challenge is to know how much you need to create a viable, desirable product; how much can be stripped away; and how to prepare for scaling up the product and service. It will be interesting to see how these applications evolve and scale (or chose not to).

2. Thinking in 4-D and making the user a magician

User interface designers are beginning to realize that there is no longer the need to hang on to representations of real life objects and drag them into the digital space. Digital is something else. It’s magical. It affords the user magical powers. It is no longer the user, a mouse, and a complicated ballet of hand eye coordination. It is the user directly manipulating a screen or an object to access a magical, four-dimensional world (time, space, people, information) that exists invisibly most everywhere one goes. Clear’s focus on gestural UI bestows this sense of magic by escaping the traditional paradigm of check boxes and text inputs that normally exist with digital to-do lists.

3. Getting Agile with it.

Both designers and mobile platforms are pushing toward cinematic user interface designs. While motion is nothing new in every day life, appropriately and meaningfully adopting it into consumer facing applications poses a new set of challenges for designers who are more accustomed to formulating designs using static wireframes. A new prototyping and blended-discipline approach to software and product development such as the Agile method and the new Lean UX movement are making it easier and more acceptable than ever before to create and communicate dynamic, looks-like, feels-like prototypes. This has allowed for a cinematic approach to design that employs more dynamic movement. And much like a good movie, the most crucial bits are often found between those still frames.

It’s exciting to see Clear’s bold interface, and the new affordances it presents. But the Clear app is just a hint of the exponentially more thrilling interfaces we are likely to see taking hold in a coming wave of more complex products and services that will go far beyond the to-do list.

Alfred Lui contributed to this post.

Aynne Valencia

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