Senior UX designer at Zappos (formerly of Samsung fame) Golden Krishna has just released a book articulating his vision for the future of design. He spoke at SXSW (in good company with Thalmic Labs' CEO Stephen Lake) to talk about our obsession with screens, and the need for #NoUI.
He began by taking a tour of our interface-filled world. From the "iPotty" (a child's toilet with a user interface) to a coffin and headstone with cameras and screens, he painted a picture of a world full of displays.
"It wasn't that long ago that our lives were filled with paper, and we dreamed of a paperless world," said Krishna. "Now, instead our lives are filled with screens, and I think we should dream of a screenless world. I actually think the best interface is no interface."
No interface? It's a radical idea. So radical, it's becoming a movement, pioneered by Krishna himself.
What Krishna is asking us to do is not simply limit the number of screens in our lives, but rethink our relationship with technology.
He walked the audience through the stunning twelve step process required by the My BMW app for iPhone to unlock a car's doors.
"Is this an improvement on the car key?" He asked. "I don't think so."
Instead, he praised two automotive UX designs. The first, from Mercedes Benz, used radio signals and the location of the car key to lock or unlock doors when the owner is near. The second, from Ford, involved kicking under a camera in the rear bumper to open a trunk with full hands.
These were examples of designs that adhered to three principles he thinks will liberate the world from screens:
Embrace natural processes.
Leverage computers instead of catering to them.
Create a system that adapts for individuals.
There was, however, one word that never appeared in his talk, or in the popular Verge article covering it. That word is "context".
Readers of this blog will already know that at Thalmic Labs we have strong feelings about embracing natural processes, leveraging computers to work for us (instead of the other way around), and the need for individual systems. But we also feel strongly about the power of context -- the capstone on Krishna's picture of a world where machines serve human beings.
The power of context appears in both his examples from the automotive world. In each, the owner of the vehicle needs to be physically near the car for the solution to work. Context is key, and it's the only way to move beyond a world full of screens. If I don't tell my phone where I am or what I'm doing, how else could it know what I want?
We're thrilled by the possibilities of a world full of contextual computing. Just imagine a relationship between people and computers where natural gesture and motion control takes the place of clumsy touch screens. Imagine a world where technology is blended so seamlessly into the fabric of our lives that solutions to problems appear as if by magic, based on context.
And why not? If my phone knows through context that I'm late for a meeting and too far away to make it on foot, why shouldn't raising my arm above my head with a specific hand pose hail an Uber? What else could I possibly mean to say?
If my phone knows I'm near my car, why should I need to dig in my pocket for a twelve-step, UI-heavy process? Making a fist and turning it should be enough to let the car know I want the doors open.
A world with #NoUI is a world controlled by context and gestures. We couldn't be more excited to help usher it in.