Rethinking Mobile Interfaces

Some days ago I came across an article on PSFK featuring Little World, a fresh user interface concept for mobile phones which was developed by Kevin Cannon and Tobias Toft for the occasion of a Nokia industry course at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID). Little World aims to turn digital interaction with people feel more like real-life interaction.

It seems that the entire world is speculating on the future these days. (For a critical reflection on this phenomenon, the Dutchies among us should read this.) From this perspective, Nokia organized a design course around the question ‘What might the future of phones look like?’. This question is relevant, as every mobile phone manufacturer currently seems to be rashly copying Apple’s shiny iPhone OS interface and information organization, while real innovations still derive from thinking differently, ‘out of the box’.

After some intense user research, the team around Little World found out that the massive overload of features in modern phones was actually pushing away the human element in it — making interactions between people easier. Therefore the two designers explored new ways of grouping, messaging and organizing contacts, approaching these issues from an intuitive way. Little World creates “a more intuitive virtual world from which you can manage friends and contacts as opposed to the generic and alphabetically ordered lists we are used to today”, and according to Cannon it “allows you to group people in a natural, analog way, placing your work colleagues in a different area to your football mates, and using your phone in a more natural, subtle and playful way”.

Little World is built around three themes. First, the interface is people-centric. Second, it aims to allow for more subtle, non-verbal mode of communication, instead of only ‘active’ communication such as texting or talking. And third, Little World is built upon the principle of playfulness: “People naturally play, fiddle, fidget, doodle with pens, pencils, cords, bottle labels, so why not allow that type of behaviour to exist in the phone itself?” In the video you will notice that although the organization of information has the potential to work more intuitively, actions such as adding people to your contacts and dragging them around as well as sending out messages are still time-consuming matters. Nevertheless, the interface design itself is beautiful and even cozy. Little World was a finalist at the IxD10 student competition. Click here for some more information about the project.

In case you’re interested to see more fresh user interfaces for mobile phones, you should definitely check out the Swedish company TAT. Their YouTube channel features plenty of interesting UI concepts, such as ‘Juggle UI’. A very interesting interface is TAT’s ‘Abstract UI’, in which “we go from very precise information to the idle screen as an entity, an abstract map of information. The idle screen will paint and evolve during the day and once you’ve learned its language you will get a whole lot of information just by giving it a glance”.