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The Year's Boldest Ideas In User Interface Design

From clothes that work as touch screens to magic glasses that blur the virtual and the real, these are the most important UIs we saw in 2015.

  • <p><strong><a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/3046864/meet-project-jacquard-googles-plan-to-turn-all-your-clothes-into-a-touchscreen" target="_self">Meet Project Jacquard, Google's Plan To Turn Your Clothes Into A Touch Screen</a></strong><br />
Everyone from Nike to Frog have predicted that the wearables of the future won't be gadgets, they'll be smart clothes. Project Jacquard gives textile manufacturers the ability to impregnate their cloth with a new kind of braided conductive thread. When coupled with a small Bluetooth controller running on a standard watch battery kept in a dedicated pocket, it will give any garment or piece of cloth the ability to pair with other gadgets and operate like a touch screen.</p>
  • <p><strong><a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/3053146/these-earbuds-dont-tune-out-the-world-around-you-they-make-you-more-tuned-in" target="_self">Don't Tune Out The World With These Earbuds. Instead, Tune In</a></strong><br />
Here is essentially a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones, except they don’t play music. Instead, they’re engineered to listen to the world around you, and remix the soundscape in real time. With the aid of a companion app, you can swipe your finger across a waveform to do practical things, like cut the drone of an airplane, or more experimental actions, like adding the flange of an electric guitar to everything you hear. The idea, in a nutshell, is a pair of earbuds you'll want to keep in all day long, to better hear the world around you, not block it out.</p>
  • <p><strong><a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/3048139/what-is-zero-ui-and-why-is-it-crucial-to-the-future-of-design" target="_self">Zero UI Is Crucial To The Future Of Design</a></strong><br />
For better or worse, a large amount of design work these days is visual. That makes sense, since the most essential products we interact with have screens. But as the internet of things surrounds us with devices that can hear our words, anticipate our needs, and sense our gestures, what does that mean for the future of design, especially as those screens go away? Fjord design has given us a set of principles on how to think about designing as computers increasingly become invisible.</p>
  • <p><strong><a href="http://www.fastcompany.com/3044283/the-messy-business-of-reinventing-happiness#!" target="_self">Disney's MagicBand</a></strong></p>

<p>Behold the story of the MagicBand, the electronic wristband that Disney envisioned guests would use to gain entry to Disney World and access attractions; make purchases at restaurants; and unlock their hotel room doors. It would push the boundaries of experience design and wearable computing, and impact everything from Disney’s retail operations and data-mining capabilities to its hospitality and transportation services. Here's how that bold vision got off the ground.</p>
  • <p><strong><a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/3041595/a-disney-magicband-for-hospitals#1" target="_self">A Disney MagicBand For Hospitals</a></strong><br />
Disney MagicBands allow visitors to walk around Disney World and simply wave their hand to pay for meals, skip through lines, and unlock their hotel rooms. They also allow Disney to track customers throughout its parks, scoring valuable data. Mark Rolston, who was chief creative officer at Frog when the design firm helped develop Disney’s MagicBands, wondered, what if the technology were placed into a medical setting? His new firm argodesign conceptualized a Disney MagicBand for hospitals, and it could revolutionize health care.</p>
  • <p><strong><a href="http://www.fastcodesign.com/3053374/this-10-hack-could-let-your-apple-watch-sense-everything-you-touch" target="_self">This $10 Hack Could Let Your Apple Watch Sense Everything You Touch</a></strong><br />
There’s a big problem in technology today. Our phones and watches are jam packed with radio antennas and sensors to communicate with the smart devices around us. But most of the world isn’t smart. It’s full of dumb old door handles and toolsets we’ve inherited from parents. So our mighty apps and "connected experiences" can’t see any of it. But this new technology could help future wearables figure out the world around us, and interact with them in smart new ways.</p>
  • 01 /12

    HoloLens: A Glimpse At The Future Of UI
    Announced earlier this year, HoloLens is a fully functional wearable computer in the form of glasses. Rather than focus on the lightweight, one-line notifications you see in Google Glass, these glasses map the world around you, and make 3-D models appear in your vision—even tracking your hands and voice as they interact with those virtual objects. Microsoft doesn't think the future of UI is virtual: the company think it's a seamless blend of the virtual and the real.

  • 02 /12

    Meet Project Jacquard, Google's Plan To Turn Your Clothes Into A Touch Screen
    Everyone from Nike to Frog have predicted that the wearables of the future won't be gadgets, they'll be smart clothes. Project Jacquard gives textile manufacturers the ability to impregnate their cloth with a new kind of braided conductive thread. When coupled with a small Bluetooth controller running on a standard watch battery kept in a dedicated pocket, it will give any garment or piece of cloth the ability to pair with other gadgets and operate like a touch screen.

  • 03 /12

    Amazing App Turns Your Phone Into Picasso's 3-D Pen
    Light paintings are a fun technique, dating back to the 19th century and used by art luminaries such as Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol. By waving a light source, like a flashlight, in front of a camera set for a long exposure, you can seemingly create static paintings of light in mid-air. Adtile's Air Pencil allows you to do something similar using your smartphone as a sort of 3-D gestural pencil. What if you could put on an Oculus Rift headset, grab your smartphone, and watch yourself draw in 3-D space? The AirPencil could make that possible.

  • 04 /12

    Don't Tune Out The World With These Earbuds. Instead, Tune In
    Here is essentially a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones, except they don’t play music. Instead, they’re engineered to listen to the world around you, and remix the soundscape in real time. With the aid of a companion app, you can swipe your finger across a waveform to do practical things, like cut the drone of an airplane, or more experimental actions, like adding the flange of an electric guitar to everything you hear. The idea, in a nutshell, is a pair of earbuds you'll want to keep in all day long, to better hear the world around you, not block it out.

  • 05 /12

    What It’s Like To Use A Magic Leap
    The Magic Leap, another head-mounted virtual display, shines images directly at your eyes, so that you see holograms that look indistinguishable from reality in a system that has all the capabilities of a smartphone. It allows realistic CGI characters to make a "magic leap" into the world around you.

  • 06 /12

    MIT's Weird Snake Bot Could Be The Future Of UI
    What if one serpentine droid could replace all the gadgets in your life, writhing its way across your tabletop to morph into a telephone, a smartwatch, or even a set of exercise weights? That's the premise of the LineFORM, a shape-changing interface MIT's Tangible Media Group think opens up "new possibilities for display, interaction, and body constraint." The future of UI, according to MIT, isn't going to be about poking at screens. It's going to be about bending lines.

  • 07 /12

    Zero UI Is Crucial To The Future Of Design
    For better or worse, a large amount of design work these days is visual. That makes sense, since the most essential products we interact with have screens. But as the internet of things surrounds us with devices that can hear our words, anticipate our needs, and sense our gestures, what does that mean for the future of design, especially as those screens go away? Fjord design has given us a set of principles on how to think about designing as computers increasingly become invisible.

  • 08 /12

    If You CC This Robot, It Will Schedule Meetings For You
    We already have virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now. But none promises the same specific functionality of Clara. CC Clara onto any email, and she'll take over the conversation just like a real personal assistant would. The future of AI is one in which anyone can afford to have a personal assistant.

  • 09 /12

    MIT's Amazing New App Lets You Program Any Object
    The end goal of the Internet of Things is to make every object in your life programmable. But our smart objects are still pretty dumb. They don't talk to each other, and most are only capable of doing one thing; a smart lightbulb for instance can dim and brighten but it can't tell your TV to change the channel for you. The result of three years of research at MIT's Fluid Interfaces Lab, Valentin Heun's Reality Editor aims to address these problems. It's an augmented reality app that lets you link the smart objects around you together, just by drawing connections with your finger between them.

  • 10 /12

    Disney's MagicBand

    Behold the story of the MagicBand, the electronic wristband that Disney envisioned guests would use to gain entry to Disney World and access attractions; make purchases at restaurants; and unlock their hotel room doors. It would push the boundaries of experience design and wearable computing, and impact everything from Disney’s retail operations and data-mining capabilities to its hospitality and transportation services. Here's how that bold vision got off the ground.

  • 11 /12

    A Disney MagicBand For Hospitals
    Disney MagicBands allow visitors to walk around Disney World and simply wave their hand to pay for meals, skip through lines, and unlock their hotel rooms. They also allow Disney to track customers throughout its parks, scoring valuable data. Mark Rolston, who was chief creative officer at Frog when the design firm helped develop Disney’s MagicBands, wondered, what if the technology were placed into a medical setting? His new firm argodesign conceptualized a Disney MagicBand for hospitals, and it could revolutionize health care.

  • 12 /12

    This $10 Hack Could Let Your Apple Watch Sense Everything You Touch
    There’s a big problem in technology today. Our phones and watches are jam packed with radio antennas and sensors to communicate with the smart devices around us. But most of the world isn’t smart. It’s full of dumb old door handles and toolsets we’ve inherited from parents. So our mighty apps and "connected experiences" can’t see any of it. But this new technology could help future wearables figure out the world around us, and interact with them in smart new ways.

When design historians look back on 2015, they will likely point out two major trends.

The first? The UIs of 2015 effortlessly stride between cyberspace and meatspace, from Microsoft's HoloLens to MIT's Lineform, a snakebot that can morph into any gadget you want. The second: The rise of ambient interfaces, so-called zero UIs that can range from virtual secretaries to clothes that work like touch screens.

In the slide show above, you'll see some of 2015's boldest ideas in interface design: from apps that let you paint in mid-air like Picasso, to earbuds that tune you into the world, instead of tuning the world out. As we head it into the new year, consider it a primer on what the sci-fi visionaries of today are trying to make the reality of tomorrow.

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Slideshow Credits: 10 / Ramona Ring;

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