As I was making breakfast for my kids this morning, my eldest son, who’s seven, ran excitedly into the kitchen and exclaimed “Daddy, in the future we’re going to have robots in our homes!” He’d seen something on Newsround (yes, it is still going) about robots designed to assist with everyday household tasks, and this set me off thinking about the future of web design.

Mars, 1988

I remember as a child reading my Dad’s old Eagle annual from 1948 – the year he was born. One of the comics was an early Dan Dare strip, which was set on Mars. No big deal, you might say. But the funny thing about it was the year in which is was supposed to be set – 1988!

Dan Dare - pilot of the future!

I used to think this was hilarious, that the writers could have been so naive to set such a fantastical story just 40 years into their future. But was it really so naive? Approaching the end of the second World War as they were then, I guess they were ready to believe (and more likely, hope) that anything was possible. Why not have populated Mars by 1988? Why not have laser guns, robots and aliens? Mind you, look at the size of the monitor the guy sitting down in the picture above is looking at – it’s huge! And that’s something that’s caught my attention, along with the household robots my son is so excited about – we can make grand plans and predictions for the future, but it’s often the small things that have the biggest impact.

Take the immense monitor in the image above – the writers of the strip thought grand enough that humans had populated another planet in our solar system and were battling an alien race with advanced technology, but hadn’t predicted the end of CRT monitors. I’m not knocking them for that, but it makes you wonder about how we think about the next major steps in technology. Looking back over the last 5-10 years, it’s the relatively small objects that have changed our lives, such as the mobile telephone.

“Hal, open the freezer door…”

Now apply the same principle to a subject close to our hearts – web design. Much has been written about the future of web design, and it seems to be increasingly important that we address how people are accessing and consuming data, rather than simply looking at what devices they’re using at the time. That said, many industry professionals have identified that a ‘multi-device world’ is posing the greatest challenges for web designers today, and responsive design is swiftly changing from being an expensive option to an essential element of a modern web project.

With The Internet of Things rapidly gaining ground, we will find more and more objects around us are either partially connected to a network, or are fully integrated with the existing internet. Take for example, the “smart fridge” that orders food for you as it runs out, or the interactive pizza-ordering restaurant table – how will our experiences of responsive design be used here? As the number of objects around us with screens and mean of interaction increases, what will this mean for the website as we know it today?

smartfridge

Predictions

So, at the risk of looking as silly as the original writers of Dan Dare, allow me to make some predictions for the future. I’m not going to limit them to just websites or web technologies, as I believe we’ll need to look at things with a much greater scope.

  • Hard light – You can already project keyboards onto hard surfaces, and interactive holographic displays are emerging from the realms of science fiction, but imagine the two combined, with the ability to project a three-dimensional workspace onto your desk that you could tailor for your needs. One setting could cover your desk (or the space above it) in a customised Photoshop interface, with buttons and panels covering every aspect of the software. Swipe your hand across the space, and it’s all replaced with panels for email and word processing. It’d be a little like the interactive computer elements from the Final Fantasy (The Spirits Within) movie:
    Final Fantasy interface

    A surgeon manipulates a operating device, from the Final Fantasy movie

     

  • Wireless power – Wireless chargers have been a thing for a while now, but why stop there? I’d like to see power transferred wirelessly to devices in the same way that we pick up wifi signals. I appreciate the idea of antenna everywhere pushing out waves of microwave energy might not sound the sanest idea this side of x-ray parties, but who wouldn’t like to rid their phones, tablets and mp3 players of the ball and chain that is the modern battery. It seems such an arcane object – this metal tube or box that contains chemicals, needs recharging constantly and eventually expires! I think in just a couple of generations, children will look at batteries like my kids stare at me wide-eyed when I try to explain what a video cassette is/was.

Do you have any predictions for the future of web design and web-integrated technologies?

“But where’s the ‘Oreo-making robot’ from the title?” I hear you ask – oh, go on then…

 Oreo Cookie-making robot, via Gixmodo: http://gizmodo.com/an-oreo-making-robot-is-pretty-much-mankinds-greatest-1541660666