Clear(ly), it’s time to say bye-bye to buttons

With its new iOS app, Clear, Realmac Software has taken the “less is more” axiom to its ultimate conclusion. The Clear app puts a new spin on the common to-do list by enriching it with a playful perception of depth, dynamic transitions and crisp audio feedback, all wrapped under a minimalistic visual language and shallow navigation.

Is this “less is more” approach revolutionary? Nope. Evolutionary? Absolutely.

As designers, we admire Clear’s UI, and we think it ties into some trends we’re watching here at Fjord (a digital service design agency). We’re betting that we will see more of this stripped down approach in the near future thanks to three big industry trends:

1.   A “mobile first” approach to features

The small-screen real estate of mobile devices has forced companies to scale down the bells and whistles and extraneous content afforded by the web, prioritizing features and services that make the most impact for the business and customer experience.

This also means that, in order to be successful, these types of applications are focused on a very narrow subset of features. In the case of Clear, not only did the company select the most rudimentary functions in a to-do list, it also followed through with a minimalistic form in the interface.

A simple interface requires paring down interactivity to its barest essence. It requires prioritizing features and focusing on the essentials needed for the desired outcome. The challenge is to know how much you need to create a viable and desirable product, how much can be stripped away, and how to prepare for scaling up the product and service. It will be interesting to see how these applications evolve and scale (or choose not to).

2. Thinking in 4-D and making the user a magician

User interface designers are beginning to realize there is no longer a need to hang on to representations of real life objects and drag them into the digital space. Digital is something else. It gives the user magical powers. It is no longer the user, a mouse and a complicated ballet of hand eye coordination. It is the user directly manipulating a screen or an object to access a magical, four-dimensional world (time, space, people, information) that exists invisibly almost anywhere the user goes. Clear’s focus on gestural UI bestows this sense of magic by escaping the traditional paradigm of check boxes and text inputs that normally exist with digital to-do lists.

3. Getting Agile with it

Both designers and mobile platforms are pushing toward cinematic user interface designs. While motion is nothing new in every day life, appropriately and meaningfully adopting it into consumer-facing applications poses a new set of challenges for designers who are more accustomed to formulating designs using static wireframes. A new prototyping and blended-discipline approach to software and product development such as the Agile method and the new Lean UX movement are making it easier and more acceptable than ever before to create and communicate dynamic, looks-like, feels-like prototypes. This has allowed for a cinematic approach to design that employs more dynamic movement. And much like a good movie, the most crucial bits are often found between those still frames.

It’s exciting to see Clear’s bold interface and the new capabilities it presents. But the Clear app is just a hint of the exponentially more thrilling interfaces we are likely to see in a coming wave of more complex products and services that will go far beyond the to-do list.

Alfred Lui and Aynne Valencia are service design leads at Fjord, a digital service design consultancy. Fjord has provided strategic direction and design for such brands as Nokia, Citibank, Foursquare and Yahoo. You can follow them on Twitter at @fjord.
Image courtesy of Realmac Software.