Ambient Characteristics
Today, we're often too quick to jump into binary modes of thought. These ideas are not intended as an all-or-nothing proposition. Within your unique context, you may feel some, all, or none of these characteristics should be applied. That's your call.

Ambient in Form
What is your product's presence? Is it a physical device? A UI with a mass of buttons? Or has it been pared down to the fundamentals? A computer has more presence than an Amazon Echo or Google Home device. Facebook's interface has less more presence than Snapchat's.

Reducing your product's presence is not always the answer. A Bloomberg Terminal is a convoluted, complicated system: two conjoined screens displaying a sea of highly condensed information, but its tailored to the needs and demands of its participants.

Ambient in Function
How overt is your product? Is it in your face? Or does it operate mostly in the background? Your home's digital thermostat is mostly covert. You set it up, and it does its thing. You feel it doing its job. The same is often true for streaming music. You engage with it to choose what you want to listen to, then you forget about it as the music is delivered.

How complex is the product's functionality? Pandora, with its limited controls, is simpler than Spotify. That's one of its principle intentions: to limit choice, which can become a source of frustration and fatigue. A physical alarm clock is simpler than your phone's clock app, although it's more overt (but not much more than the phone the app is in).

Ambient in Personality
Every aspect of your product is reflected by its personality. Its function, form, communication style and tone. Is it loud or soft? calm or excited? hard or soft?

An ambient personality is natural. It fits in with the participant's expectations - or helps shape them. It understands its intention, and aspirations, and is at ease in sharing them.

A product's personality is shaped by every single product decision. By every product element. The UI, the user experience, internal and external communications, the other users (if you're exposed to them), and the tone of its marketing copy.

Rather than letting the personality form reactively, you may want to proactively map the product's personality before you begin building it. It will be an effective guide.

Ambient in Intention
What is the product's intention? A smoke alarm aspires to be ambient - to blend in with its environment - until it is required to perform its function. Then, it is anything but! Facebook, on the other hand, has no such intention. It wants your full attention, at all times. Netflix, too.

A product's intention is often born from its function.

Ambient in Aspiration
Does the product aspire to an ambient existence as its resting state? Or end state? A wristwatch aspires to ambience: it wants to live, quietly, on your wrist. It patiently awaits your glance - but will never disturb you without reason.

A screensaver aspires to instill ambient calm across your computer. Its presence implies the computer itself is at rest, even though it's doing a lot of work to present this façade.

Netflix, Spotify, Pandora and similar services do an excellent job of fading away into an ambient void: letting their content speak for them.

The pervasive notification systems we see within our phones, inboxes and apps are the opposite. Their purpose is to be seen: to acquire your attention and provoke an action. To them, an ambient or diffuse existence is anathema to their very nature.

Ambient Characteristics