This is a summary of what happened in the world of interface and interaction design in 2011.

Desktop Identity Crisis

Following a series of leaks, Microsoft finally unveiled Windows 8, pitching it as a “no compromise” operating system that brings the best of their desktop and mobile offerings. The typography-centric design language that they perfected in recent years, Metro, will in all likelihood become their bread and butter in the consumer market and will remain a hot topic for years to come.

Meanwhile, Apple was busy shipping Lion, a milestone update that brought multi-touch gestures, native fullscreen support, and other iOS-inspired interface elements to the desktop OS. They also made sure to upset legions of users by changing the scroll paradigm to match their mobile implementation. Mac third-party apps are coming in all sorts of flavors, and the somewhat unified look and feel of yore gave place to a hodgepodge of visual styles and design patterns: popovers, pull-to-refresh, icon-based tab navigation, monochrome icons, you name it.

Social Innovation

After several attempts to make a dent in the social space, Google finally decided to get its act together and build a design-driven product that can potentially dethrone Facebook. Led by Andy Hertzfeld, a prominent member of the original Macintosh team, Google+ has indisputably introduced some clever interactions such as circles, the group management interface. The refreshed visual style they deployed on Google+ already started seeping into other flagship products.

Facebook retaliated by introducing one of the most radical UI changes in its recent history, the profile timeline. On the mobile front, they managed to ship the eagerly awaited iPad app as a universal package that uses and abuses vertical tab navigation. Overall, the mobile apps look significantly better thanks to the recent design talent acquisitions; whether they work and feel as good is a whole other story.

Twitter overhauled their interface in an attempt to make it less intimidating to new users and more accommodating to advertisers. They also ended up ditching swipe gestures from their iPhone app as the last UI vestiges of the original Tweetie app acquired a year earlier.

Speaking of mobile apps, Path has managed to steal the spotlight from major social players by releasing a completely revamped interface that showcases some playful interactions and experimental design patterns.

Honorable Mentions

Web, Native,or Hybrid?

The bi-polar tone of this pointless debate has given place to another discussion about the UX implications of Web views, a new hybrid technique that involves displaying Web pages within native containers. Even though this approach garnered widespread adoption by large companies such as Google, Facebook, and even Apple, it has yet to prove itself by curbing the user experience inconsistencies it entails.

Gestures vs. Buttons

As touch screens are in the process of becoming the prevalent form factor, the transition to gestural interfaces is dividing the design community. As users, our interaction mental model is currently in a limbo state; we can hardly keep up with the overwhelming number of new interactions that we have to deal with on a daily basis. As designers, striking the balance between ease of use, memorability and discoverability is becoming increasingly hard in the lack of industry-wide standards.

The question is no longer whether a radical shift in our field is underway, but rather where it will be taking us in the years to come.

Goodbye 2011, welcome 2012.