What The Avengers can teach us about UX

The role of the UX designer is changing, explains Tom Moran of TH_NK, and uses Marvel's The Avengers to explain why.

The role of the UX designer is changing. A digital experience is becoming more than just a website or a series of pages.

A user's experience with a digital service now spans multiple devices, adapts and changes based on behaviour and can all happen without the user even noticing.

To design an experience for the future requires an understanding of the big changes happening right now and then knowing how to make them all work together. The mighty heroes of design and technology need to be brought together – UX Avengers, assemble!

01. Machine learning

Iron Man cartoon

Like Tony Stark's Iron Man, machine learning is pushing the use of technology further and further forward

Combining cutting edge technology with complex algorithms makes machine learning the "Iron Man of UX".

Machine learning uses a neural network of complex data structures to make data-driven predictions and decisions. Google has been ahead of the curve for machine learning for a long time, recently releasing TensorFlow – an open source AI system that can be used in a variety of ways, from speech recognition to protein folding.

Testing design concepts and layouts on a live site can be a slow process of hypothesis, execution and then importantly analysis – taking many days or weeks.

With machine learning a page structure, colour and content can all be designed, adapted and tested in real time – able to run thousands of experiments a second.

Multi Variant Testing powered by machine learning could transform a website into a constantly evolving organism able to adapt, change and grow depending on the individual user needs, technologies or design trends.

02. Big data

Like the Hulk, big data can offer enormous power but it needs to be chanelled wisely

Huge, complex and powerful are all terms that could be applied to The Incredible Hulk, but the same can be said for Big Data. Utilising pattern recognition, huge amounts of data can be analysed in real time to give a powerful insight into users' buying habits, biometrics and day-to-day lives.

As more and more devices become connected to the internet, analysing the data they provide can quickly become overwhelming. Individually, these sources of data can sometimes feel pointless, such as the Wifi enabled kettle.

However, more devices means more data and intelligent systems can be used to find patterns within this data to predict user behaviours, gain customer insight or even save lives. When a Nest carbon monoxide alarm detects a leak it has the ability to switch off the most likely source of the problem – the boiler.

The Nest is among the increasing number of devices that connect to the internet

The Hulk's key strength is the scientific mind behind his alter ego Bruce Banner. The same can be said for big data which is nothing without the myriad of incredibly smart devices providing the data.

Wearable devices and the data they provide are still in their infancy, however, interesting and unexpected innovations are likely to keep occurring as developers and technicians explore the capabilities these devices can provide. A good example of this is a recent Disney innovation that uses the electromagnetic sensors in smart watches to detect what the user is interacting with, from a kitten to a door handle.

Harnessing the power of big data will create the opportunity to learn, interact and play with a digitally enhanced world away from our smartphones and screens. Big data, wearable devices and an internet-of-things require a new approach to UX design, taking into consideration all of these various factors to deliver a new era of digital service.

03. Instant internet

New technologies are providing internet at superfast speeds that even Thor would envy

Driverless cars, digital cities and multiple devices all streaming high definition content will require a lightning fast infrastructure capable of delivering a seamless experience without lag or delay. Providing every home and person with high speed internet access is a task worthy of the God of Thunder himself – Thor.

The government is currently developing a Universal Service Obligation giving UK residents the right to request at least 10mps broadband. By 2020 the hope is that it will eventually become a basic utility like electricity or water.

With data demands constantly on the rise, by 2020, this may not be enough. 5G is set to launch around the same time and current estimates predict it could run at around 800 gigabytes per second.

With most large systems or digital services taking years to launch, experience designers need to be thinking today as to what can be delivered in the world of tomorrow. 5G will be a huge leap forward for mobile internet – finally putting in place an infrastructure that would allow truly digital cities, remote surgery and driverless cars.

04. Adaptive design

Captain America had to adapt quickly to modern developments, and so do today's UX designers

Screens will always play an important part in our lives. Various sizes, resolutions and dimensions are constantly increasing as technology companies strive to fit a device into every gap in the market. Ensuring an intuitive experience is delivered regardless of device is quickly becoming the biggest challenge for UX designers.

Captain America was a WW2 hero, a wonder of his day. He was the equivalent of responsive web design; the game changing piece of code that could change the layout of a website to fit a desktop screen, tablet or mobile. But the world has moved on, now we have thousands of screen sizes to design for, ranging from watch faces to HD monitors. Just like Captain America, interaction design needs to adapt to life in the 21st Century.

We have thousands of screen sizes to design for, from watch faces to HD monitors

Like a man out of time, retooled to be better than ever – Adaptive Design is the Captain America of UX. With adaptive web design there isn't just one layout that changes, as with responsive design, but several unique layouts that change depending on the screen size.

Adaptive design requires a multi-pronged design strategy that takes all screen sizes into consideration at the same time, keeping watch faces and HD televisions in mind simultaneously. Combined with material design and micro interactions, truly adaptive design results in amazing experiences being delivered regardless of device.

For UX, this means approaching each device not as a challenge, but as a unique opportunity to create navigations and layouts that are right for the media.


UX avengers cartoon

Like the Avengers, when new UX techniques work together, the sky's the limit

Combining machine learning, big data, a powerful infrastructure and device specific adaptive design will result in a world that is more than just screens and pages.

Brought together, a digital service can become proactive in a user's life, becoming less of a go-to service and more of an intelligent assistant. An intelligent system would be able to learn a user's behavior and predict the future; picking up a cold coffee cup could result in turning the kettle on, and not leaving on time could mean a check of your biometrics to see if you're unwell. The possibilities are endless and as yet, unknown.

Machine learning and big data will work together to provide insights into a user's behavior, a lightning fast infrastructure will allow for real-time analysis, and adaptive design will mean an intuitive design regardless of device.

The UX designer of tomorrow needs to focus on the entire user experience and not think just in terms of pages on a website. Focusing on the experience as a whole utilizes a myriad of techniques and technologies that will deliver unbelievable experiences and enhance the day to day lives of users around the world.

Words and illustrations: Tom Moran

Tom Moran is senior UX designer at TH_NK, a digital agency that works with the likes of Warner Bros, Butlins and Vue.

Liked this? Read these!