Future Storefronts and Digital Interfaces

Online spaces are changing at rapid paces. We’re beginning to design web experiences that keep people engaged for hours each day. Interfaces react to user interactions and from these interactions we receive digital identities. Corporations based entirely on the web have spread across the globe. To keep up, it’s time to shift to new ways of thinking about how we do digital design.

The Purpose of the Website

In years past, the primary purpose of a website was to market the organization. It functioned as a brochure and a news feed all-in-one. Having a website let organizations display a sense of unity. It let them showcase a refined preview of the organization to the end user.

This website functioned as in imperfect storefront with limited possible interactions.

The Traditional Store Front

Think about the last time you looked into a storefront. Through the window you could see the items in the store. You could see the people in the store and the shopkeep.

Signs on the window displayed current specials, promotions, hours and transactional data. You could look at the store but not interact with it in the sense that you could when entering the store.

The traditional website reflects in many ways this outside-looking-in storefront model. As the web evolves, users are demanding more out of our digital storefronts. Many are shifting away from this traditional model for obvious reasons.

The New Paths

Taking into account feedback from our users causes us to think about our interactions in deeper ways. It makes sense to craft interactions in order to drive engagement with the people we serve. Users are asking us to create tangible stores rather than windows to look into.

Users are asking for transparency. They’re asking for data rather than refined presentations.

Users are demanding web interfaces rather than traditional websites. The web interface is not a new concept. The web interface is a traditional website built with a few extra layers. The web interface is what happens when the user walks into the digital store.

The first step to creating an interface is defining paths.

(1) What do we want people to do when they enter the storefront? We create ideal paths from these questions.

(2) Once the user paths are defined, we start asking how users interact with these paths. What conversations or products do we give them while on these paths?

(3) Once users interact with the paths, we find ways to store these interactions and craft ongoing experiences with the users.

Uniquely Shaped Experiences

Interfaces let users shape the store with their interactions. If an item selected, it should react to being selected. Users browse the aisles and think about what they’re doing. They expect digital products to behave like physical products.

In an actual storefront, when an individual picks an item off a shelf, the item is removed from the shelf. Likewise in a digital storefront. For example: If an individual modifies a digital item, it should show that it has been modified.

Users also have emotional reactions. While browsing, users take into account social and political implications of their actions. They ask the big questions

Examples: “Is this a genuine activity or a waste of time?” “Is what I’m doing socially relevant?”

The New Storefronts

Emerging digital storefronts have taken the places of traditional storefronts. They do this by crafting interfaces for their users and storing the interactions of their users.

  • Netflix is the combination of video rental store and movie theater where you can relax.
  • Twitter is the news stand where you find new ideas and competing philosophies.
  • Amazon is the convenience store where you can buy most things.
  • Facebook is the social club where you can meet new people and grow your social status.

Each of these digital storefronts share common traits. The user interfaces personalize themselves to the users over time. Every time the user enters the store, they get a different experience based on previous interactions. They have a unique identity associated with the store. Identity can involve name, address, browsing history in the store, and general interests.

Summary

A successful digital storefront does four things:

  1. Presents the users with an interface.
  2. Engages the users to interact with the interface by providing multiple paths of interaction.
  3. Stores data on the users based on prior interactions.
  4. Shapes and customizes the interfaces user-by-user to make for a unique experience to further engage the user.

The future digital storefront is bound to and cohesive with the users. A cohesive experience is litmus test for new user interfaces.

Questions to Ask

When designing digital interfaces, it makes sense to ask these questions:

  1. What feelings should be invoked when navigating the interface?
  2. How much time should the user spend navigating and interacting?
  3. What paths should you give the user?
  4. What should the user get from your interface by engaging with it?
  5. How do you customize the experience for the user to make it more agreeable and engaging over time?

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