By John Surdakowski,
Jun 7, 2012

Smart TVs and what they mean for web design

Smart TVs and what they mean for web design

Ever try visiting a website using any of the major browsers available from your HDTV? If so, then I’m sure you’ve noticed, they’re all terrible. From PS3 to Xbox 360, to Internet enabled TVs, the user experience does not make sense at all. Attempting to click on a text link with that awkwardly large “mouse” pointer using the analog joystick, is painful to say the least. And the UI for most so called Smart TVs need drastic improvement.

Most of the time, we don’t even bother checking out a website from our TV sets. Why would I load up my PS3 and navigate to such an awful browser experience, when I can just grab my iPad, iPhone or even a laptop?

The living room TV is not meant to experience websites…For now. The buzz of the tech world has been Apple’s HDTV, rumored to be in the works at Cupertino. The spark was ignited when Steve Jobs dropped a pretty blatant hint in Walter Issacons book.

Apple is most definitely trying to take over your living room. And given their track record. They will. Just as they did with computers, MP3 players, cell phones, music and tablets. Now that the cat is out of the bag, other traditional tv companies are trying to be first to market or planning to compete with Apple, releasing new Smart TVs, some with gesture based controls, web browsing, and native apps. Whoever wins the battle is irrelevant for this article. But what will come of this living room revolution, is.

Anyway the wind blows, the way we use the web will forever change. The more Smart TVs that pop up in user’s living rooms, the more websites they will visit on these devices. This will drastically alter how we build and design our websites.

Right now the most popular way to optimize a website for use on multiple devices is Responsive Web Design. If you’re not sure what this is, check out A list Apart – Fluid based layouts along with media quieries, help to serve a different design and layout, depending on device or browser size. This is by far one of the biggest technologies to hit the web in it’s short history. And will be a standard, even more so when Smart TVs invade the user’s home. Sure, responsive web design is great for altering the design of our websites using almost any device, including TVs. But what about HOW users interact with these websites?

Depending on the way TV vendors develop the human interaction with these devices, our UX will be disrupted, in a huge way. Many say the interfaces will be gesture based, some say voice recognition. Maybe both are right. But what will happens to our point and click (or swipe and tap) websites, when there is no mouse to click, screen to touch or keyboard to type on?

Will responsive design solve these problems? How will we future proof websites for such a new type of interaction? The Smart TV experience will grow into a totally new form of human user interaction. Something we will need to adapt to. Just like we did (and still are doing) with mobile devices. Since iPhones and iPads have been steadily out selling laptops and computers, the importance of mobile UI and UX has grown larger every year. Within the next year or so, we will be putting the same, if not more emphasis on the Smart TV UI and UX. But it’s one thing to design a website to be touched or swiped, how do we prepare for gestures dictated from across the room? (that is, IF gestures will be the primary controls. Each vendor may have their own set of controls…yikes!)

I’m not worried about how our websites will look, stylistically. I’m not complaining or worried about what we will figure out as a community. I’m just very excited to see what happens to web design when we have this new device to consider.

We will have a lot more to consider when developing websites for this new interaction. And that is a GREAT thing. Because we get to mess with new technologies, and solve new problems. Which in turn leads to more and more work to keep us busy, and more ways to pay those bills.

Ever since the web has been around, it has been an exciting time to be a web designer. And now is no different. I’m very happy I can be apart of it.

How do you see this new technology effecting our craft? And what do you plan to do about it?