In our monthly session with long-time client Lloyd’s we were talking trends, this month we looked at “disappearing User Interface” – Admittedly, not a new new concept but something we’re find increasingly relevant to our clients.
We started with a few demos; some Leap Motion experiments we’ve been doing in-browser and in Unity, a glimpse at the MYO band that came out of Kickstarter a while back, then a demo of the Amazon Alexa skill that we’ve just created for a Premiership Football Club. Plenty of evidence that you don’t need a website or a nicely designed “web page” to get information to users.
In addition to gesture and voice interfaces we were looking at chat bots and AI – in particular, a prototype we developed with IBM Watson. This example – a Q&A bot for terms and conditions and FAQ. No mouse, no finger tapping around a list of questions or topics – just natural language as interface.
Then, a little voice came into my head (this happens from time to time, don’t worry about it), the voice said: “So mr James, you studied Graphic Design, spent years as a developer, was an ad creative for ages… your mum essentially thinks you make things ‘look nice’ on computers” [it went on…] “So, how do you square off that, basically, your inner-visual-designer is out of a job? I mean, no interfaces to design = no work, right? Shouldn’t you be pushing for better visuals, richer pages etc etc..? try to ignore this disappearing UI nonsense?”
I decided to externalise my inner voice to the room. Always a bit of a risk… But I thought I’d see how the room was feeling about wether ‘interfaces’ or ‘websites’ may not ‘look good’ anymore… Because, they may not look like *anything* any more. We all saw the irony: while the interface itself disappears it also paradoxically becomes more conspicuous (visible). For example, many people still think it’s stupid to talk to their house or a speaker (their Echo), they feel like they are in a B-Movie when they wave their arms around in front of interfaces… when an invisible interface becomes visible in this way it’s clearly not an “invisible UI”. And, similarly, there are many aesthetically beautiful interfaces out there that work like shit. (ahem maybe even made one or two myself over the years)…
So is the visual designer out of a job? No, of course not. But, its clear that Design and the Design process continues to evolve as technology and its uses evolve. We still need beautiful things in our lives. Our design teams need to continue to work beyond the aesthetic; physical space, time, human memory, sound, reactions to win out. The Interactions we design need to create a response in the user that is harmonious to the users expectations and this will be judged by all senses, not just the eyes. A good interface is a beautiful interface and it remains visible in more ways than one.