User Interface is MORE than Panels

It seems like every technological piece of software released today has some sort of transparent paneling that floats or flies into screen. Some of these can be seen on mobile devices, Windows 8, and app interfaces. It also seems like everyone is designing towards the flat screen and touch interface. This has been furthered highlighted by sci-fi movies like Minority Report, one of the first to demonstrate this interface. Minority Report, however, was certainly not the only production to do so. Certainly TV-shows like Star Trek, The Next Generation, also showed numerous flat screen and touch interfaces, not to mention tricorders and tablets.

Why Flat and Touch Interfaces Aren’t That Great

According to undergraduate motor behavior classes at Texas A&M University, the way the human body operates can be understood by several motor control theories. These theories pose that input from your own interactions helps your effectiveness at a given task. In a study conducted with amputees and non-amputees, it was determined that the amputee group had a harder time balancing than the non-amputee group when their attention was split. It was found that the lack of input was what actually made it harder for the amputee group to maintain balance.

This resulting information applies to touch interfaces because they remove a potent basic sense, proprioception. Among other things, this allows us to sense touch, pressure, balance and point pressure discrimination. Flat screens almost exclusively cut off point and pressure contacts. The reason why you can type faster on a keyboard than on a flat screen is because your body takes all of your neural inputs (touch type of touch, pressure, surface details, etc.) and combines all of that information to make your movements more efficient.

This has been found to be true in several kinesiology experiments where subjects had to trace lines and circles with different sensory inputs disabled. The results showed that the less sensory information came in, the more variability or inaccuracies were found. You can test this yourself. Have you ever misspell something on your IPhone while you weren’t looking at it? Chances are you would do better on a Blackberry versus an IPhone, all other things equal.

With the rise of flat screen technology, new advances in touch technology from firms like Tactus Technology are fixing that problem.

Translated into Web Design and Functionality

When designing websites or any other multimedia, developers must focus on how the target audience will use the respective devices. These days, all websites should be responsive for full optimization on mobile devices. Information and content served up on the websites should also be easily accessed.

If accuracy is reduced because of the loss of tactile sensation experienced with mobile devices, then buttons should appear bigger (in proportion) on small screens than on full sized screens. Text should be formatted as well. Bear in mind that these proportions require a delicate balance and should be relative to the size of the screen, not just bigger in size in general.