Next in UI Design: No UI

ButlerAt a presentation yesterday on new trends in UI Design, designer Drew Davidson provided a surprising maxim: the best UI is no UI.  As computers advance to the point of being able to predict exactly what we want to do, instead of providing an interface for our input, the ideal system would simply read our mind and provide what we want or need.

Although this may initially seem far-fetched, the infrastructure is currently being built to make exactly that possible.  The algorithms and techniques have been around for years to help predict what people will purchase or what actions they will take.  Manufacturing, for instance, makes extensive use of advanced planning and scheduling systems to help predict materials purchasing requirements and optimize the ideal time to purchase materials at the lowest price.  Companies such as Netflix have even run contests to award prizes of $1,000,000 to the developer who could produce the best movie recommendation algorithm, so that their subscribers could receive a constant stream of movies that fit their taste and interests.

Combining the predictive analytics with wearables and constant data tracking, however, is where Davidson believes the user experience with many apps will begin to transform.  By tracking user data of when the individual last ate, reading biometric health data to see how they are feeling, and analyzing the individual’s calendar and plans for the next week, the computer may be able to tell rather accurately what the person will want to do within the next hour or two.  For instance, the computer will be able to tell if the individual is hungry, tired, and stressed, and correlate that with previous history data to infer that they will enjoy a quick bite at Portillo’s and an early sleep.

What this all amounts to is converting computers into a personal valet.  In this scenario, instead of requesting an action from an electronic device, the device will instead make recommendations to the user.  This is a significant shift in mass-market human-computer interaction, and it remains to be seen whether individuals will be ready to take unsolicited suggestions from a machine.  Given the plausibility of the concept, however, we are not as far from the Rise of the Machines as we may think.  Instead of humanoid robots, however, it may be our own susceptibility to suggestion that leads to our undoing.

Written by Andrew Palczewski

About the Author
Andrew Palczewski is CEO of apHarmony, a Chicago software development company. He holds a Master's degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has over ten years' experience in managing development of software projects.

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