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What we dont know about 2015

Looking into the future and being able to say with certainty what is going to happen is difficult at best, nigh on impossible at worst. Where the web is concerned its even worse. Technologies that are around now may be obsolete in the future. We may be using things in 2-3 years time that are unlikely to have been invented yet. So can I suggest an alternative? Lets first consider what we don't know, and plan our thinking around that. When we plan for what we don't know, we're much more likely to be able to cope when things change.
 
Here's what I think we don't know:
  1. How people will be accessing the web.
  2. What the latest design trends will be.
  3. Where our potential audiences will be.
  4. How people will want to access our information.
  5. What users will want to do with our information.

How people will be accessing the web.

Six years ago, Apple launched the iPhone. Mobile phones had been capable of browsing the web in some limited capacity previous to this, but the iPhone blew its competitors out of the water and left the industry playing catchup for years. Mobile browsing of the web is set to overtake desktop browsing by next year and as our mobiles become more and more powerful, our interactions will come from them by default rather than the exception. 
 
Google is poised to launched its Google Glass glasses, and if you believe the rumours, Apple is on the verge of launching a new mobile watch. We now have smart TVs capable of hooking into our wifi signals, and even our fridges monitoring what we're eating so that they can reorder automatically.
 
What's the result of this revolution? We have no idea through what medium people will be accessing our information.

What the latest design trends will be.

When I first started designing, websites were very basic. Textual information reigned king, and the concept of styling using CSS was in its infancy. Many trends have come and gone. Table layouts suddenly gave us the ability to make our sites look more like print, CSS allowed us to control styles more accurately. Rounded corners were all the rage, then came gradients, textures and making what looked like 3D components to really make our designs "pop". We then realised the importance of being able to view content on a mobile, and responsive design was born. Now we're seeing the move back to flat designs. Microsoft with its latest release of Windows and its associated suites has gone for this big style. iOS 7, due for release later this year will also jump on that band wagon. When we consider the myriad devices we considered above, a one size fits all approach simply doesn't cut it any more. What works on a desktop, doesn't translate to mobile as well.

Where our potential audiences will be

Most of our higher education institutions, bar only those who have appeared very recently, are pre-web. They grew up in a time when their audience were those who turned up to listen to lectures in the hallowed halls of academia throughout the country. Then the web came, and suddenly we were starting to supply content to our students wherever they were in the world through our eLearning environments. Students could access notes and powerpoints on their home computers, but sadly the experience is still far from perfect on a mobile. With the rise of MOOCs in recent days, our courses have gone from being a paid for service, to becoming a marketing tool that can attract students from any part of the world. So when we design our infrastructure, we can no longer be assured that those accessing our systems will be in the same country, let alone the same campus.

How people will want to access our information

The days of people accessing our website to keep up to date with our info are dead. There, I've said it. I don't want to have to visit numerous sites at regular intervals to see what's going on. I want you to push that information out to where I am. Whilst I'm not particularly interested in every little bit of news, I want an awareness that you are active and that things are going on. I want to be able to get updates via Facebook and Twitter. I want to see your stories in my Feedly stream. Basically, I want to access your information, on my terms. Is that too much to ask?

What users will do with our information

I was at a conference last week and attended a workshop a workshop by Christopher Gutteridge of Southampon University on open data. I was impressed with the subject matter, but what struck me was that the people putting out the data had no idea how people would want to use the data that was being put up. One great example that was given was the subject of the canteen menu. Every day they would prepare an excel spreadsheet of what was on offer for health and safety purposes. However because the data was structured, the web team at Southampton was able to parse that data and put it up on the web automatically for everyone to see. What a great reuse of data, and it's something that was outwith the scope of the initial material. To try and anticipate every need of our users is impossible. We can perhaps design for the majority, but it's the minority who can sometimes produce something that blows the rest out of the water.
 
What's my conclusion from this? We need to future proof our data. That needs to be the focus. If we make that versatile enough, it'll ease the transition to whatever comes in the future.