The web is turning a new page. In fact, its leaving the page behind altogether. A page-based web can only take us so far and as technology changes the game, new conceptual models of what the web is are quickly emerging. I’d like to speculate about where they are heading.

Lets wind the clock back to 1991. The web was originally based around the paradigm of the page, which reflected the content-focus of its early use. But ever since it hit that critical mass in the mid 90′s and we started to do more and more useful things with it, we have been evolving away from the page as the core element of our web-based interactions.

Static, content-based web sites turned into dynamic web applications but still had to work within the old parameters as we awkwardly tried to shoehorn applications into what was essentially a set of documents. AJAX was a relatively small innovation in technical terms but a massive leap in the way that web applications are thought of. Google’s new Chrome browser takes this to the next level and is a big push in the direction that Steve Jobs foresaw in his 1995 Wired interview when he predicted that the web would take us back to the dumb terminal model of the 60s and 70s. If you’ve used something like Google Docs recently you will appreciate just how far we have come from the humble browser of the mid-90′s.

What does this mean for us as ux/interaction designers?

  • Design interactions, not pages. This has always been the case but will become more vital over the next few years as the artificial constraints imposed by the traditional web start to diminish. A more holistic approach to design will be required and I suspect that ux practitioners who are light on design and heavy on dogma will struggle. We need to stop partying like its 1999.
  • Take a fresh approach to navigation. I suspect that screen real estate for global navigation systems will be scaled back and more task-based navigation and contextual tools will fill the vacuum.
  • Keep a weather eye on conventions. I for one will be keenly watching how the conventions of the current paradigm translate into the new one. How will breadcrumbs be used? What about navigation on the left? The use of the homepage? Keep in mind that many conventions born in the web have already leaked into other contexts such as desktop apps and even print – clever interpretations of and references to these will go a long way.
  • Be patient. This will be a slow evolution that will happen over years, not months. Keep your eye on the interaction and don’t do things for technology’s sake.
  • Keep the page on your Christmas card list. The page will never go away entirely, it just wont need to be used in situations that aren’t a natural fit for a page-based paradigm. It will be fascinating to see how the concept of a ‘page’ is represented as a container for content in a more dynamic context – but it wont be a massive leap from where we are today. For content-based sites, the page is still a natural fit and will still be represented as such.

These are exciting times and we have a large role to play in taking the raw materials of technical possibility and creating engaging and rewarding experiences that actually contribute to the happiness and productivity of real people.