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Force Touch and the evolution of interaction design

For those of you who may or may not have heard, Force Touch is the latest feature from Apple which recently made way onto the Apple Watch and Macbooks, and is due to hit the upcoming iPhone and OS versions (expected to be announced at tomorrow’s Keynote). Force Touch uses the device display to detect the force of a tap or press, responds differently to variations in pressure, and provides the user with different content and something called haptic feedback in return. The customizable input and feedback adds a new layer to the interface, allowing the user to access different content with the simple tap, push or hold.

Force Touch provides something very few technologies have thus far: it reinforces the importance of an emotional level in our products and the stripping away of the unnecessary to call on only what is needed at one particular moment; the ethos of great design and technology.

Last week, I sat down to answer a few questions about Apple's Force Touch technology for journalist Derek Walter's Fast Company article. In doing so, I spent a good deal of time thinking a lot about the technology and design behind Force Touch, and the role they play as a unit, given the fact that they’re inextricably linked. In doing so, I wanted to explore what makes it what it is—the perfect mixture for technology enabling and supporting great design, and the pioneer for design evolution:

Invisible Interfaces

Often times, we see both design and technology shine in their individual silos. Over the years, many products have showcased how design and technology can be individually beautiful, however, very few ensure one’s existence reinforces the success of the other.

The existence of Force Touch gives products a method to not only provide additional features, and more importantly, it simplifies the interface, displaying the content needed only in the moment a user requests it. As a company, this is one the core goals a product should continually strive for–providing exactly what is required the moment it is requested. As a designer, achieving this is one of the biggest challenges and most rewarding experiences one can face.

Haptic Feedback

Like most new behaviors, regardless of platform, there will be a learning phase—especially when a behavior is completely polarizing. The way Force Touch is implemented on Apple's products, and the capabilities that come with it, arguably do polarize. However, the pushing of a screen (a bit harder than usual) in order to receive some type of feedback is not new; remember those things called buttons we used at one point? You're giving users something that is completely natural, just not immediately obvious at first—which is okay. People will learn.

The continuous volley of input and feedback occurring with a user that can actually be felt, with the press or a push, adds an emotional layer of its own, be it through rapid or light vibration accompanied by a visual cue on screen. Whether that feedback happens after checking off a to-do item or logging your current heart rate, it confirms a user's request and desires with a new level of reward to delight, letting them know someone or something acknowledges them, and what they want to do or say.

Natural Challenges and Opportunities

Technology like Force Touch sets itself up much like open-source software—to be used in a way a product sees fit at the time they see fit. Given that, the biggest challenge with technology like this lies in the way products adopt and implement it, not in the technology itself. It puts the responsibility of solid design in the hands of the product.

Much like any other technology, it's not something every product should jump on without a research phase. Because ultimately it comes down to a decision of whether or not it serves the users in a delightful and non-obtrusive way. As with all new technology, it can be wrongly implemented or simply serve no purpose. You see this with the creation of several Apple Watch apps. A lot of them simply don't make sense and their existence is solely to be present in the app store.

The moment a company implements technology or design solely for the sake of doing so, to the point where it impedes, the only thing that differs between their product and others is that they now provide users with a convoluted experience. And that's much more difficult to address over the matter of "should we implement this new technology and if so, how?".

If used correctly though, Force Touch will provide an entirely new dimension for users that is sure to delight, increase usage of the product and improve the ease of use for an individual when doing so.

Advancing design

As we advance as a technology-driven society, so does the way we interact with technology. In doing so, the demands we have increase, as do the expectations of our product experiences. We expect our products to delight us, provide us with content the moment we request it, and feedback when it’s desired, albeit subconscious.

In a time where there is an over-abundance of content being pushed to our devices, requiring our attention at all times, Force Touch shows us how our technology can and should evolve to account for it. Through haptic feedback, invisible interfaces and a seamless user experience, it pushes the boundaries of interaction design, blurring the lines between machines and humans.

What are your thoughts about the way Force Touch advances design and technology? Want to chat about it, let's do so on Twitter @imcatnoone! If you enjoyed it, a share would be lovely! <3

Thanks you for your feedback, thoughts and massive grammar corrections on this post: Benedikt Lehnert, Jenny Herald, Michael Pinney, and Diogenes Brito. <3