Fit-Tech and the quest for health

Last week, after having shunned the idea for quite some time, I decided to purchase a FitBit.  Although I will tell people that it was mainly out of professional curiosity, it was more likely motivated by a newfound interest in my general health and fitness.  Over the past year or so, I have been taking small steps towards a healthier lifestyle- a bit of gym here, a few less calories there, all in the name of “health.”  Perhaps this is a result of getting older and realising that health is a priority, or perhaps (and this is far more likely) I have fallen prey to the general health “craze” that seems to be sweeping the globe.  Gone are the days of simply being “slim” and counting calories.  These days it’s all about “fitspiration,” getting abs, and lifting weights.  Although for the most part, I think that’s a positive change, the most interesting aspect of this for me from a professional point of view, has been the rise of what I call “Fit-Tech.”  The release of iOS8 with its gradient-festooned Health app is the latest in a slew of fitness focussed technology to hit the market.  From the FitBit and FuelBand, to apps like My Fitness Pal- the race to create the most high-tech fitness trackers and tools is on.  People are more connected to their health than ever before- they can track every calorie, monitor every heartbeat, and share their progress with friends using a myriad of different gadgets and services.  You may be thinking “Well, isn’t an increased awareness of health and fitness a positive thing?”  The short answer, I believe, is “It could be.”  Here’s the long answer:

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Icons- Technology’s Visual Language

I recently came across a discussion in the LinkedIn IXDA group, around the floppy disk “save” icon.  Briefly, it centred around the idea that the floppy icon is out of date, and generally meaningless, to the younger generations and requested ideas for a newer, more relevant icon.  Many suggestions have been made, from abstract folders with arrows pointing to them, to clouds, to safes and locks.  Each suggestion has its merits, and its relevance to the concept of “save”.  However, what I found fascinating about the discussion was a far broader concept.  Rather than suggesting new icons, some participants in the discussion questioned the need to replace the icon at all.  After all, even though a 7 year old child may have no idea what a floppy disk is, they know what action it triggers.  So then, should we replace icons whose meaning has become outdated?

In answering this question, I explored many of the parallels between icons and written language.  After all, icons are merely a visual language- they evolve and grow and adapt as our usage and understanding of them changes.

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Cross Channel Design- Consistency vs Optimization

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the UX Australia conference in Melbourne. Amongst many other fascinating discussions, one that seemed to come up over and over again was Cross Channel Design.  Cross channel design refers, briefly, to creating a cohesive user experience across multiple channels (including smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, physical stores, kiosks, wearable technologies and numerous others).  In the past, simply having your website “work” on multiple devices was as far as you needed to go in terms of the cross channel experience.  However, as the digital world matures, and information becomes more abstract and ubiquitous, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that a user’s cross channel experience is not only seamless, but effective and appropriate for their current channel.

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Flat Design- My final word

In the world of design, there has always been a large amount of emphasis placed on being “trendy.”  Millions of dollars are ploughed, every year, into figuring out what the cool kids are doing, and reproducing it over and over and over.  In the early 2000s, the cool kids had MySpace, and MySpace had tiled backgrounds, glitter text and animated gifs.  In the mid 2000s, the cool kids had web 2.0 and glass buttons, reflections and gradients.  Now, the cool kids have flat design, and designers everywhere are feeling the pressure to fall in to step once more.  Suddenly, our websites are old fashioned and out dated unless we have removed every vestige of skeuomorphism, erased even the subtlest of nod towards the real world, and embraced the neo-modernist mantra of “truth to pixels!”

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