The Most Important UI/UX Demos From 2021

A shot from argo’s own demo of Interactive Light, an exploration of ambient computing.

Our credo at argodesign is Think by Making — nothing drives ideation and gives a sense of viability like creating a tangible experience. We create a lot of demos toward this end, but we consume them as well. So we thought we’d get 2022 started by sharing some of our favorite demos from 2021, ones that help us peek at the future of design and technology in meaningful ways. Enjoy this short list, and if we missed any great ones please let us know!

POINT, Smart Home Remote

We have a soft spot for using advanced technology to turn lights on and off. That alone makes this one of our favorite demos of the year. But using ultra-wideband tech to create an intuitive remote that knows what you are pointing at — and responds by giving you the UI to control that device— is really clever. In terms of UI/UX this removes a lot of friction. If you imagine this as a pair of glasses rather than a smartphone, you start to see how the interaction models of the coming Mixed Reality XVerses will work. It also shows how valuable wearable mobile computers will be in removing friction — and why Apple will probably own the real metaverse with the strength of their platform.

The Metaverse Reveal

Love or hate it, the importance of this demo will be discussed for years. Despite being a case study for how low-fidelity the current graphics of virtualization have to be to avoid the uncanny valley, the rebranding of Facebook was one more signal indicating how ready users are for more computing. It also served as yet another acknowledgement of the importance of placefulness in the next patterns of computing, whether it be inside virtual spaces or digitally overlaid on the real world.

Lastly, it catalyzed an important debate about our digital lifestyles and the ad-oriented posture of Facebook with its users. On the rebrand itself, the name Meta is almost to be expected, given Facebook’s dire need to own all data. The sour reaction to that new name also made sense—it is as if McDonalds rebranded itself as ‘Food’. There is an ominous arrogance to the brand position that we should want the creators of Facebook to own and administer the meta of our world. If the reaction is any indicator, they will only be one of many.

Lauren Carson’s Cooking with Spectacles

Cooking with technology is a classic tech demo. (We are guilty of this as well.) It is amazing how similar these type of demos have been for the last decade, but we included this one and the Twitter thread for a big reason: Lauren’s statement in her tweet that “the goal is the removal of friction, not gamification”. Well put @Miss_Lady_Pants! We are in the early days of Mixed Reality, and for the past few years everyone has been looking for the ‘killer app’. The truth is, the value is in the friction-removing nature of the pattern of wearable mobile computing. When the form factor reaches a truly wearable level we will all quickly realize the killer app of Mixed Reality is… well, computing.

Kejiro Takahashi’s iPhone 13 Sensors Experience

This is a stunningly beautiful visualization of the sensor packages included on the iPhone 13 Max. Your phone likely now includes depth sensors along with the many field-of-focus cameras that are mapping the world. We think this is a gorgeous reminder of how many capable mapping devices Apple has for building a digital twin of the world. If they have not already built a highly detailed map, they can build one quickly and enable the base platform features that will enable Mixed Reality to expand the kind of computing where the digital joins us in the real world. The power in this hardware promises a lot of real-time Mixed Reality experiences that do not need the backing of a cloud-based world map.

ClipDrop

This demo dropped in late 2020 and instantly was hailed as a great example of a practical use of AR and intuitive design. What the demo also shows is the importance of interoperability when it comes to intuitive design. Even in beta this requires an application to enable; from there you are left with the openings the chosen OS platform gives you. This illustrates well that it is often the technical constraints of crossing platforms that create the most friction to users. As we like to say at argodesign, ‘great value comes from closing small gaps’. Closing those gaps sometimes requires some substantial bridging. The word ‘interoperability’ will come up a lot in debates about technology in 2022. Regardless of which side you will land on, remember this demo and the opportunities for user-centered design when interoperability increases.

Design for Spatial Interactions

This is one of the longest and driest of the demos included. But it is also the most educational. We speak of placefulness a lot. If you need another signal that computing is moving into the physical world, as well as a good lesson on how it can serve in quiet ways to close gaps, look to Apple. This video talks a lot about actually designing for specific localization. The kind of context that comes from the place you are in or the place something is at is something graphic designers will be thinking about a lot in the future. It changes the UX and thus there are new conventions and UI to be developed to help the user benefit from merging digital and physical.

Jared Ficklin is Chief Creative Technologist at argodesign, with two decades of experience creating products and visions for major companies. For his previous work integrating technology into the design process at Frog Design, Jared was named one of 4 Frog fellows. He has contributed to the visions, strategy, intellectual property, and products of clients including HP, Microsoft, AT&T, LG, SanDisk, Motorola, CognitiveScale, and Magic Leap.

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argodesign

We are a product design firm. We love design – for the technology, for the simple joy of craft, and ultimately for the experiences we create.