The Future of the Interface Is No Interface

By Jon Peterson on Feb 5th, 2016

Yet the history of the interface is actually quite opposed to this. After all the concept of a user interface is essentially to create a more user-friendly form of the command line. The root of the command line of course is that computers are highly literal machines that will only do exactly what they are told to do by a user and will only perform an action if the user somehow triggers that action.

But the age of the computer as a “dumb” machine is behind us. Quite simply, predictive computing is already a reality from a technical capability standpoint, yet far too few experiences are leveraging it. Now at this point, it might be tempting to dismiss this as overly ambitious futuris, and perhaps even to protest that it would be impossible to replicate your app or website without an interface However, the point here is not that you shouldn’t have an interface-based method of connecting with users. Rather, the practical implication here is that the heart of good design is increasingly based on reducing the number of interface interactions a user will need to complete a task.

Eliminating unnecessary interface interactions can take a number of forms. For example, consider how Uber remembers a user’s frequently and recently selected destinations, allowing for quick address input in the app when hailing a ride. Likewise GMail incorporates upcoming flight itineraries into Google Search Results, when the user searches Google. Similarly, Apple’s iOS now offers a quick list of apps and contacts for users based on their habits, which can be quickly accessed by swiping right from the iPhone’s home screen, and of course the Nest thermostat is famous for learning a user’s home temperature preferences.

Unfortunately though, implementing true machine learning and predictive algorithms is a daunting technological task, that is a tall hill for companies without the resources of an Apple or Google. However, there are many alternatives that offer a similar “smart experience” to users without actually employing machine learning or predictive algorithms. Even simply enhancements like letting users opt in to saving details such as an address or credit card information, can reduce the number of interface interactions a user will need to have over time. Other tools like letting users set their location automatically via the GPS or allowing Google autocomplete to populate form fields can reduce the number of interactions a user needs to have with your product.

As we look ahead, it’s clear that we’ll still need interfaces for many things and users will continue to interact with all manner of devices. However the future of human computer interaction is not gestures, voice recognition or other exotic inputs. The future is a world in which our devices allow us to spend less time staring at a screen in the first place.

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