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Ambient User Experience as the Holy Grail of design

If you have ever watched the Iron Man movie series, you are already familiar with J.A.R.V.I.S (acronym for Just a Rather Very Intelligent System). If you don’t have a panache for movies, don’t worry.  JARVIS is an advanced artificial intelligence personal assistant, able to perform incredible feats for his boss- the billionaire, philanthropist, genius and playboy, Tony Stark. While the sci-fi movie is full of action and thriller, it still offers some fancy examples of user interface and user experience. For one, Tony Stark’s house epitomizes cutting-edge technology and design. In a way, his fabulous house invokes the idea of the smart home, where everything is connected and artificial intelligent platforms take over. What really strikes, though, is the spectacular user interface and the user experience. Enter Ambient User Experience.

While one should always take sci-fi movies with a grain of salt, it is fascinating to extrapolate from sci-fi movies, novels, and comics; trying to predict trends always pays off. Ambient User Experience is touted as the future of design, and rightly so. Holographic representation of reality has been a staple of science fiction for decades, but that might soon change. Before we get there, though, designers have to tackle a lot of challenges. For one thing, how do we go about mixing physical reality with electronic devices and virtual reality into a single, immersive experience?

We’re still trying to makes sense of digital data in an analogue world. Ambient User Experience is a relatively new concept, but the idea behind it is simple: a world where everything is connected, an immersive reality where you get to interact with people, hospitals, shops, airports, trains, schools and everything else from a single app, instead of using a bunch of apps. The question is not whether we can come up with such an innovative plan- we should be asking instead: how do we go about implementing it?

The Internet of Things (IoT) will be a major player in the coming decades. The idea of generating vast amount of data from billions of smart connected devices, and what’s even more important, gleaning immense insight from them, is an intriguing one. As with every other device that is connected to the internet, the Internet of Things sensors are susceptible to hacking. Security is a major concern, for both companies and individuals. You might ask: how does the IoT relate to the Ambient User Experience? Well, since designers will be striving to create a truly immersive, seamless user experience, it makes sense for them to benefit from the Internet of Things infrastructure. What is more, IoT sensors and devices will allow for a seamless, real-time flow of information, which is vital for developers and designers alike.

As technology evolves at a rapid pace, designers will have to tackle the mammoth task of creating an incredibly immersive user experience. And we’re not just talking about creating mesmerizing user interfaces for videogames, or building captivating user interfaces for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) devices such as Oculus Rift, HoloLens, and Google Glass. Make no mistake- these are huge steps in our quest for a completely immersive user experience, but there is more to Ambient User Experience than just some fancy head-mounted displays. What if people could build their lives around a deeply immersive, intelligent and autonomous global system, allowing them to interact with the world like never before? This may sound like science-fiction, but that’s how most breakthroughs happen. As Sun Tzu once put it: “Never venture, never win!” Building simple, intuitive and sleek user interfaces, and ultimately an incredible Ambient User Experience will be the 21st century challenge for designers.

Ideally, designers would like to get the best out of the recent developments in virtual reality, augmented reality, Internet of Things and the likes, but they would have to grapple with thorny questions such as: “will people like it?”, “how can we get the best out of every existing technology?”, “how can we create an immersive Ambient User Experience out of thin air?”, etc. Truth is, you can’t build something out of nothing. Fortunately, designers don’t have to start from scratch. Solitary endeavors won’t get you that far, after all.

As we step into untrodden paths, courage and determination will be designers’ best allies. Building an immersive and large-scale Ambient User Experience will be a huge undertaking, but that is what fuels us humans. Doggedness trumps everything.