Zero UI – Designing Invisible Interfaces

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At the heart of the Subscription Economy lies the “Subscription Experience.” And one of IoT’s revolutionary promises is to make this experience intuitive and delightful, time and again. Andy Goodman, Group Director of Design Strategy at Fjord (part of  Accenture Interactive) and his team work with companies to re-imagine the relationship that their customers have with their products and services. They use the power of design to create experiences that customers will love and return to.

Our seemingly unquenchable attachment to screens – rectangles that glow in the corner of rooms, on our tables, by our bedside, and in our pockets – has come to inform societal norms and mores; so much so that it may be difficult to imagine a world not dominated by screens – yet that’s where we, as Fjord, believe we are heading.

Andy Goodman (requires Editor's permission)

 

The word “screen” itself has tension: it simultaneously means an object we look at and something that we hide behind. A postcard-sized surface has somehow become a barrier and escape route in social situations, absorbing our gaze and taking us away elsewhere.

At Fjord, we view the replacement of screen-based interaction (along with its constant fracturing of attention spans) by ambient technology to be a very good thing; natural social interactions could be restored, and our attention could again return to the people sitting at the table with us, instead of those half a continent away. In short, we see tremendous opportunities in a “Zero UI” world.

A Zero UI World

Zero UI refers to a paradigm where our movements, voice, glances, and even thoughts can all cause systems to respond to us through our environment. At its extreme, it implies a screen-less, invisible user interface where natural gestures trigger interactions, as if the user was communicating to another person.

It is brought about by the emergence and eventual mainstream adoption of sensors, wearables, distributed computers, data analytics, connected everything, where anticipatory, adaptive and contextually aware systems provide what we want when we want it – “by magic.” Zero UI will not be limited to personal devices but will extend to homes, entire cities, even environments and ecosystems, and as a result have a massive impact on society as a whole.

 

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It matters because it takes us away from the tyranny of the glowing rectangle and makes us more human again. Whilst we do not believe that we will ever have a screenless world (or at least a world where visual input isn’t the primary mode) it is incumbent upon designers to consider the impact on the world of our work. If we just slap a screen on everything, and make everything an interface – which will certainly be possible with advances in Smart Materials, Flexible OLED and Piezo sensing technology – then we are not being diligent enough. A lot of things, particularly functional things can be relegated to the background and not demand so much of our attention, leaving us more time to experience the people we are with and the places we are in.

 

Digital expectations

As the world becomes increasingly digitised we are no longer cognisant or forgiving of systems that don’t “just work.”  Digital has changed our expectations of how seamless the world should be. We are also prone to applying the same expectations and performance criteria from one system to another totally unrelated. The payment experience of Uber – i.e. “just opening the door and getting out the cab” has created a perhaps unrealistic and certainly unmet expectation of how everything else should work, from our banks to our airlines. In the long term, this is a good thing, as we drive towards frictionless experience in every sector and type of experience.

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