The Internet of Things and Other Considerations in Digital Design

From Print to Shining Web

Static. Not the electric kind, but that kind that makes consuming stories and media less dynamic. Static is what newspapers were and (according to the great Ryan J. Sparrow) what the Red Lobster website still is. Static is stagnant. Nothing changes. Your media doesn’t interact with you, just like you don’t interact with that guy you said you’d go on a date with and then never messaged again. Static.

Much of the media we consumed before digitization made dynamic design possible was static, and it came in the form of print. Magazines, newspapers, books. Things we might still look at for the practicality of them, but not for the excitement. They are designed in a straightforward way:  nothing moves, everything is consistent. The consumer can interact with a book or newspaper by using the table of contents to find what they’re looking for or solving the daily crossword puzzle, respectively, but the content doesn’t interact with them. News stories don’t change in print based on a reader’s political preferences. They do on web.

As web-based content consumption has become more popular, designers have had to look at how print is consumed versus how web is consumed because these nuances can alter design styles and considerations dramatically. Designing for print and designing for web are apples and oranges.

The Web and the Internet

The beginning of the the Internet was called Web 1.0 (and, yes, I am aware that the Internet and the Web are two different things). Web 1.0 opened a new world of possibilities for information dissemination, but the design process between web and the old age of print remained largely the same: static web pages staring back at you like a nothing more than a newspaper on a screen. It seems the capabilities of the Internet had not been discovered yet. Like in print, Web 1.0 is passive: consumers receive information but can’t leave comments or interactions. And that’s not really too much fun, is it? It’s the “readable” phase of the Internet.

In the early- to mid-2000s, Web 2.0 began to develop as web pages became more responsive and “writable”. In Web 2.0, the consumer suddenly becomes valuable: Her input helps to shape the web experience. No longer is a web page just readable; it’s kind of customizable. The key aspects of Web 2.0 are interpersonal computing, web services and software as a service. It’s interaction on a level more than scrolling down a page.

The Internet of Things?

If you’re anything like me, the next step of web evolution is an enigma to you. The first time I heard the phrase “Internet of Things,” I was like who? Yes, the Internet is made up of things. I knew that already. Tell me something I don’t know.

Here’s something I didn’t know: the Internet of Things is not actually the things you find on the Internet. It’s putting the Internet into things.

Think of your refrigerator. It’s probably normal, but rich people sometimes have refrigerators with cameras inside of them. These cameras can show them in real time what is in their refrigerator. So at the grocery store, they can be like “Hey iPhone Refrigerator App? Can you show me if I have creamer?” and then a picture of their actual fridge will come up on their phone. The Internet is in the fridge and is communicating with the Internet that is in their phone. That’s the Internet of things. A more complicated but better known example: Alexa.

Web 3.0, or the Internet of Things, was meant to be used to reference the future. But with things like refrigerator cameras and Alexa laughing at you randomly, the Internet of Things is here.

So, I’m a Designer. What does this mean?

The evolution from print to web to an even better web has some design implications. The print vs. web argument is a little more obvious than Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 vs. Web 3.0. When designing for print vs. web, you have to consider things that affect the audience that the audience might not even notice, but that make a huge difference. Viewing experience. Senses engaged. Static vs. interactive.

With these things in mind, the designer has to make design decisions to amplify the audience experience for each medium. Usability and Navigation. Resolution and sizing. File types. Color palettes. Typography. Persistence and control. Each of these choices makes a difference for the consumer. A serif font instead of a sans serif on the web could break or make readability.

In terms of designing for a new-age web, static (mostly, think Red Lobster) doesn’t cut it anymore. Media consumers are expecting interaction on a site. They are expecting impeccable navigation and dynamic websites that are responsive to phone and desktop use. In 2012, 78 percent of Internet user accessed the web from a handheld device. That means something significant for design. Imagine how many people people are doing so in 2018. A non-responsive website is one of the greatest accessibility pitfalls a company can have. From a PR standpoint, having a website made for Web 1.0 in a primarily Web 2.0 (sometimes Web 3.0) world is making it more difficult for modern consumers to identify with and access the brand of a company.

Dynamic. Consumers are looking for dynamic design that responds to them as much as they respond to it. In the age of social media, websites have to connect with those platforms. People should be able to make commentary on topics. People should be able to pull up a perfectly-working website on their phones. Print might not be dead, and static websites might still have their place at Red Lobster, but people are looking for more. They’re looking for Alexa. Dynamic.

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