Into the Future with Patricia Reiners
Adobe Creative Resident Patricia Reiners is a UX/UI designer living in Berlin. She calls her residency focus "Future Cities," and it includes new technologies like augmented reality, voice control, and artificial intelligence, and how they might change interfaces and the way we design. She focuses on the areas of smart living, new work, and mobility.
However, technology is not the driving force behind her work. “What I find so inspiring and interesting about UX design is that the human being is in the center,” Reiners says. “You’re trying to find the perfect solution for the human.”
The residency gives Reiners the time and space to hunt for patterns and some fundamental rules that underpin good interactive design. She wants to find ways to streamline the app-building process and share her research with the UX/UI world. Ultimately, her work is about solving problems to help people. Design is and always will be about problem-solving.
“If you’re not solving a problem, then the design is not that good,” she says.
When Veggies Fly
For her first Future Cities project, Reiners thought about increasing urbanization and how already limited space will become rarer. She thought about the ecological and systemic impact of population shifts from the countryside to the cities. She thought about lifestyle trends and how they might evolve. She thought about food, and then she looked up.
Flying Veggies is a concept app designed in Adobe XD that turns the wasted space of rooftops into fully automated urban farms tended by drones. The whole process is automated, and users can decide what and when they want to grow. They can check their phones to see which vegetables are ready to harvest, what’s ripening soon, and ways to share their bounty.
"If you think about rooftops, it’s kind of dangerous to go up and garden there yourself,” she says. “You need spaces where people can walk, where they get water, where they can climb up and down. But if everything is automated by drones or some kind of robotics, then you have space to grow even more things, and the work can be done during the night because robotics don't require light.”
Flying Veggies prioritizes information based on what users want. On the home screen, you see what you can eat right now and what will be ready for eating tomorrow. Another interesting feature is the ability to track growth and water-usage rates. “It's important to think about the whole structure from the very beginning,” Reiners says.
Adobe XD allows Reiners to easily share prototypes and design specs with other stakeholders, and to tailor what she shares to suit a client, a developer, or a tester. “It's awesome if you’re working with clients or you’re working remotely,” she says. “You can send links to different versions, some for clients, some for people who are reviewing it. They can write little notes on it: 'What does this button mean; I don’t understand this.' It’s super important.”
She tests prototypes early and often, preferably with real users. “Give a prototype to someone, assign them a task, and then watch them do it,” she says. “You find out super interesting things, and the earlier you do this the more insights you’ll have.”
Once the aesthetic is nailed down, it’s time to begin to design the user interface in Adobe XD. “I use the wireframes I designed earlier as guidelines, and then I think about how the screen will look with the design,” she says. Reiners uses Adobe XD's Assets Panel to create a design library, where she arranges and stores her components. “You build your own library and you already have the background, the buttons, those kind of things,” she says. “So even UX people who don’t have a visual design background can use those libraries.”
Balancing an app's look and function can be a challenge. Some basic rules of thumb apply to almost every app. “Users understand color coding, so we generally have rules for different colors," she says. “For example, things that are clickable are always one color, and the user will understand the rule immediately. It doesn’t have to be blue—it could be orange or red—although of course, you have to take into account existing color conventions; for example, red usually means something went wrong, and green means something went well.”
Sometimes the best graphic is one that moves. Users can’t see the incremental growth happening in their garden by looking at a picture, but a simple animation expresses change easily and immediately. “A user wouldn't see the difference between a carrot that is thirty days old and thirty-one days old,” says Reiners. “But when the user clicks on the vegetable within the app and the detail view of the vegetable opens, then the vegetable grows.”
Let's Talk Technology
Befitting someone who envisions a future where drones tend rooftop gardens, Reiners is also delving into emerging voice interaction technology. She brainstormed scenarios where voice interaction could help people with occupied hands, such as talking someone through a guitar lesson or offering sewing instruction. She began to focus on cooking.
“I did a lot of research,” she says. “I watched people cook. I divided the process into stages: recipe selection, preparation, beginning to cook, mid-cooking, end of cooking, eating, and cleaning up. Then I looked at the specific needs in each of those stages. What are people feeling? What are the failures? What are people thinking and doing at those specific times? I was looking for app requirements and what information users would need. Then I thought about features.”
Voice interaction is still a relatively new technology that poses many unresolved questions. Reiners wonders how integrating voice commands will impact the way that apps are designed and how designers will adjust UIs to suit this new way of interacting with devices. But she knows there’s great potential that stands to benefit so many people.
“Many people have not been included in the digital revolution at all,” she says. “The visually impaired, the older generations. Voice interaction includes almost everyone, which is why I’m so interested in it. It is the next revolution.”
App design and development is usually a group effort. Reiners believes that the interplay of ideas makes for a better app. It’s also more fun than working alone.
“I especially enjoy presenting ideas to clients and colleagues. You get feedback, you ping-pong ideas.”
Giving Future Designers a Helping Hand
Reiners hasn't always been focused on UX/UI. She originally studied graphic design at university and only decided to change paths after an internship with an advertising agency soured her on the industry. “I had to learn a lot of things myself,” she says. “I started with challenges, hackathons, teaching myself how to do things by watching tutorials, creating my own projects.” Today she’s paying it forward with tutorials and instructional Instagram videos, and she’s started a podcast interviewing cutting-edge UX designers.