3 ways Cloud is disrupting design


Okay. So Cloud is disrupting our world. It is vastly changing the way we develop, deploy and maintain our digital products. Although indirectly, it is also impacting the field of UX and UI design. Some of these changes might be less visible or obvious to us, but they are real. I believe designers and their work would benefit from taking these implications into account. And even if you’re not a designer, it wouldn’t hurt to continue reading.

1: The way designers work

Design collaboration will keep moving towards Cloud services and tools for sharing, reviewing, testing and ultimately also creating designs. Adobe is a good example of a major software company transitioning towards hybrid products that combine the richness of desktop software and the ubiquitousness of data- and asset sharing, as well as integration with other Cloud services. But also the new(ish) kids on the block, like Sketch or InVision, each is rooted (with at least one foot) in the Cloud.

2: The work designers deliver

A Cloud product is usually more than what you perceive on a single device; it is an ever-present, ever-live service that can be interacted with in many ways. By many devices, in many modalities and by many actors; some human, some machine. Consistent experiences across contexts will be expected, while simultaneously taking advantage of device- and context-specific qualities. For example: hierarchical information in a user interface is often represented in a tree view. Although a powerful visualisation, a multilevel tree is not viewed or navigated well on small screens. Drag and drop is another pattern that works well on a desktop with a large screen and a mouse, but much less on a touchscreen. When designing for Cloud products we need to prevent device-specific patterns to keep UX consistent and predictable across different touch points.

Complex technologies like object recognition, voice interfaces and deep learning have become available for smaller budgets than we’d ever imagined possible a few years back. It is now relatively cheap and easy to disclose (parts of) your Cloud product for voice assistants, which increases the product’s reach and in a lot of cases could offer a great advantage for the customer. A few years ago applying this kind of UX would be unthinkable in most cases.

Cloud concepts will ultimately change our perception of what a computing device is and what we expect from it; we need to change our UI paradigm accordingly. For example: the save button will become obsolete now every mutation becomes stored in the Cloud automatically. This does introduce some interesting new challenges around concurrency, data synchronisation and locking. These are exactly the kind of things designers should be focussing on right now.

3: The way design integrates into the development process

A Cloud product is never done. Cloud will further boost the concept of early MVP shipping and continuous monitoring and improving of the product. Faster development and easier deployment enables designers to test their ideas in production. Like the way a company like Deliveroo is developing their services: instead of creating a testable prototype for a new feature, a quick-and-dirty implementation of the feature is done in the live software. The new feature is then rolled out for a limited amount of users, evaluated, rejected or iteratively improved upon, while the sandbox is gradually increased until the feature is exposed to all users. A completely new approach to research and design, and a trick that could have hardly been pulled off without the Cloud.

Some things will never change

Yes, Cloud will impact nearly every aspect of our work. The essence of the designer’s role will remain the same though: translating business and customer goals into compelling products. But businesses, customers, their goals and needs, and what they will perceive as compelling will all change. Which in turn means the experiences we design and the way we design them also should. At least, if we want to keep ahead in the Cloud.