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Beyond Responsive Design: Scalable User Experiences
A while back I came across a video on streamlined inline editing in Drupal 8, and while I was impressed with a lot of what they've done, I noticed that the new interface seems to be somewhat less functional. This got me to thinking about my frustration with the administration interface for Joomla 3.0, which inspired a post on my Toronto Joomla blog An Argument for Complex User Interfaces.
All of this has caused a fair bit of internal conflict: I'm a big fan of responsive web design; I like most of Twitter's Bootstrap framework; I love the visual appeal of a clean, simple user experience. I appreciate that complex interfaces are intimidating and that they are a huge impediment to adoption of any application. Yet when it comes to getting a complex job done quickly, those same streamlined interfaces rapidly have me wanting to toss a keyboard through a window.
Maybe it's my ADD, but I thrive on complex interfaces. I want to see as much information as possible, packed as tightly as possible, and formatted for readability and easy access. I don't mind scrolling, particularly if it's only the secondary information that scrolls. In other words, I'm a mobile designer's anti-user.
In addition to some supportive comments, I got a lot of positive feedback from people who agreed with my position on complex interfaces. At the same time I noticed that most of the support came from more experienced users. I wondered if maybe my complaint was a generational thing. Sort of an “ageing laptop user with Big Monitor whines about mobile systems passing him by” theme, while also insinuating that I also miss rotary telephones (I don't).
Surely if 70% of new browsers are on smart phones and tablet devices, the complex user interface is all but dead? To test this, I tried composing this article on a mobile device. Three times. On two devices with two browsers. I didn't get past the second sentence on any of them. Our WYSIWYG editors just aren't ready for the mobile, tactile interface world.
With this I came to a conclusion: while a lot of content – usually short form and multimedia content – will be created on mobile devices, anything that requires significant editing and post production is going to be done on devices with big screens and keyboards for a long time to come.
So UX designers have a problem: there is no single user interface that is optimal for all user communities.
I believe the solution is the scalable user experience. A scalable UX starts with the clean, simple design that makes people label a product as friendly and easy to use, but over time it allows that user to transition to a more complex experience, perhaps allowing each user to customize the interface to expose the tools they need to get their job done. The casual blogger can have an interface that is as receptive as a default Wordpress site; the mobile reporter can have a hybrid of Twitter and Tumblr; the journal editor can access formatting, publishing, and categorization tools; and the Marketing/SEO specialist can see all of that plus realtime keyword reporting, tagging, analytics, even stock prices and the local weather radar – if that's what the job function requires.
The Joomla 3.0 administrator interface offers a lot that's great, but at the same time that gain comes at a cost. Our challenge as we progress towards 3.5 (or 4.0) is to build an experience that can adapt to the needs of the individual.