This post by Ryan Stewart on ZDNet predicts big things for Rich Internet Applications (RIA's) in 2007.

Having come from a time when all applications were 'rich', I am of course excited by this, but it also makes me a little nervous. Are there enough skilled designers to go around?

Designing rich applications is hard - much harder than designing for the page-based interaction model of 'traditional' web applications. Information architecture and interaction design are much more interdependent in rich applications - because the user experience is no longer a journey through a series of web pages. In moving from web applications to rich internet applications, the interaction model switches from 'the user finds their way to the functionality' to 'the functionality comes to the user'. This is subtle, but the concept of 'the page' is less prevalent.

Now, one way for interaction designers moving to RIA's to address this is for them to start with what they know. I expect many RIA's will still be based on a page-metaphor (effectively this is what AJAX sites do today). This plan (page-based RIA's) is probably better than the richer, but poorly-designed interfaces we will also see over the next year.

And what's more, there's no standards

When designing traditional GUI's for Windows, Mac or even to some extent Linux, we have the advantage of the platform standards to help (see User Interface Style Guides for more style guides). The guidelines mean we don't have to start design 'in a vacuum' - we have conventions for layouts, widgets, menu structures, terminology, window models etc. etc.). RIA's don't have those standards to start from (let me know if I'm missing something). Now many designers will be pleased about that - they don't want their creativity constrained under the oppresesive yoke of UI standards handed down by 'the man'. But even the most experienced designers find it more difficult to start from a blank page. The page model in web apps, and the UI guidelines for GUI's mean that designers for those mediums don't start from a blank page.

Horses for courses

My take on the standards is that there will be RIA's for which UI standards will be entirely appropriate (line of business - LOB - apps) and some which will want to dance their own dance (kiosks, games, heavily branded experiences).

Meanwhile, are there enough designers?

So anyway, the point is that if RIA's take off over the next year, then there will be a lot of demand on designers and for designers. Exciting time for designers, may not be an exciting time for design, at least initially.

 And on that cheery note, season's gretings everyone! Shane