Will we ever replace paper?

Why physical experiences are fighting back against the future of screens

I have some sort of a feeling that paper could never be replaced. I mean, despite our best efforts paper has already been replaced across industries over the last decade in an effort to make everything electronic — from the data we store to the way we communicate — digital connectivity has vastly improved every inch of business. It just would never make sense for an organisation to operate intentionally on paper anymore.

Yet still, think of any task you could perform with paper and I guarantee there is a digital counterpart to it. Paper is no longer essential due to the technology available to us, yet it still exists with no sign of going anywhere. Before you think this argument becomes ridiculous, that it is all about paper, then let me assure you it’s not. It’s about the core experience paper offers us and why it could perhaps never be replaced — this is not only paper, it’s about how so many digital touch points are failing to address the needs they were designed for.

For the past five years, how we design services has been dictated and limited by the touch points that were available to us — the PC, mobile and analog touch points. Much emphasis was placed on creating experiences delivered through digital screens and as a result, people spent more time interacting via device than in person. — FJORD

Ok, so it may not feel like these digital touch points are failing us and who am I to say they are but there’s a strong sense that we are beginning to sub-consciously fight back against them. Think of think of the last “to-do” list you made, was it using paper, post its or something digital? Maybe your iPhone notes or Trello?

“The future of screens should be about blending physical and digital experiences”

For the majority of us I can comfortably say we used something analog like paper and there’s a stronger reason behind this than some may think. It can be easier, faster, more available at the time but those are only surface arguments that can also be used for digital touch points.

One of the main reasons we still use paper for To-do lists is the sensory experience it stimulates. The touch of the page, the link between your pen, hand and mind and the tactility of having your next goal in your hand. The action of writing or reading something physical has a much stronger sense of connection than say — a digitally typed note that may or may not send you a reminder 15 minutes before the task needs to be completed. This emotional stimuli, the dopamine it sends to your brain is something that has arguably not yet been recreated through digital To-do list services.

Paper is just one small example of this sub-conscious dissatisfaction with our digital touch points. Do I even need to mention the growing angst against our screen addiction, or our need to now separate core technology outside of one device. Where once the goal was to pack as much as possible into one screen we suddenly find ourselves wanting experiences that offer something more personal and meaningful. Surprisingly it seems to me that the next step is actually to unpack our screens of all of these solutions into separated (physically integrated) experiences.

The future of screens should be about blending physical and digital experiences, solutions that create more sensory experiences — even for the simplest of tasks such as To-do lists. We should no longer be using digital as a sole touchpoint but as an enabler for our physical touchpoint — take this next example as a reference.

Restaurants have started to offer apps to download before visiting so that users can order and pay without the table service. Yes Wetherspoons in the UK is a great champion of this particular service as it has targeted the needs of their consumers in the correct context but why are restaurants that are famed for their customer service also offering these apps? I can’t say I would visit a nice restaurant and be amused to find I had to download an app onto of my already full memory to order something with no personal recommendation or conversation — the context of a touchpoint like this just isn’t appropriate.

Instead why aren’t these restaurants looking to build on their customer service by using digital services or technology to enhance it thus creating a more sensory and admirable experience. — starting with the paper menu perhaps??

Technology should inspire us to design services that enable a positive experience, the line between physical and digital touchpoint is one such area that will start to be addressed more and more but until then no, I do not think we will ever replace paper.

Thanks for reading — I’m currently a user experience intern at Bosch Power Tools and an Industrial Design student at Loughborough University. Feel free to get in touch or check out my website.

Will we ever replace paper? was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.