I’m a User Interface Designer here at Control Group. I have a master’s in graphic design from School of Visual Arts here in New York. I’ve loved designing interfaces for projects like the MTA Wayfinding Kiosk and the EMKI Interactive Museum, as well as for our clients and their audience.
So why would I read a book called “The Best Interface Is No Interface”?
Because, like the rest of modern society, I am inundated with glowing rectangular screens day in and day out. And as much as the hyper detailed floating interfaces in Iron Man (among other blockbuster movies) seem nifty, I prefer the future of Her, where the way we communicate with computers is a bit more subdued. Like Don Norman, famous user-centered design advocate and author of “The Design of Everyday Things”, I appreciate any argument for simplifying how we interact with the world.
The author of “The Best Interface Is No Interface”, Twitter-renown Golden Krishna, makes an excellent case for what we all probably feel already: not every problem can be solved with an app. He condemns the overused phrase “there’s an app for that”, with hilarious examples of unnecessary screen-based products. In addition, he doesn’t mince words with how he really feels about some of the standard UI elements that we’ve been using since the start of the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) days. His expletive-fueled rant about dropdown menus alone is worth the price of the book.
The UI Design profession takes some bashing in “No Interface” especially. Krishna paints a picture where it’s “cooler” to be a UX Designer because they’re the ones who think about “people, happiness, and solving problems” where UI is more concerned with “navigation, buttons, and rounded corners”. While that’s true, all the visual elements that UI Designers think about contribute to “happiness and solving problems” through the manifestation of well-thought out UX approaches.
As it is, the main argument Krishna makes is that UI and UX have fused into one role, which in turn, promotes a user interface as the “correct” solution to larger user experience-based problems. True, the two roles are related, and in certain cases one person can wear both hats. However, if a user interface designer is assigned a non-user interface problem, this can create a conflict of interest. How can a visual designer remain an objective problem-solver if they just want to make cool parallax scrolling animations?
Great user interface designers come from varied creative backgrounds: illustration, graphic design, industrial design and so on. As such, they are already familiar with exploring “No UI” solutions along with UX designers. It should go without saying, but what separates a good UI designer from a great one is knowing the right solution to the problem, even if that solution is not a UI design. All designers, whether they are UI, UX or otherwise, should keep the needs of the audience first and foremost, or else they do the whole project a disservice.
So what are those needs of the audience when it comes to a user experience? Jakob Nielsen, grandfather of usability and human-computer interaction, put it succinctly with these “Five Quality Components of Usability Goals”:
- Errors (keeping error rates low)
Note that none of those explicitly mention a screen. Nielsen has been criticized for not mentioning typography, color and other design elements, but those are just methods for achieving the goals listed above.
Lastly, Krishna smartly addresses some of the challenges to the “No Interface” concept. If he hadn’t, I would’ve been sorely disappointed. This is a book that’s designed to ruffle some tail feathers, so best for him to address the nay sayers head-on. As he mentions, privacy is a huge concern in a future world where the computer automatically anticipates your every move and whim.
Just like a personal assistant, a level of trust has to be established between the system and the user of that system. Sadly, the “opt out” solution is usually not as clearly defined as Krishna would want it to be, mainly because it’s not in the best interest of the system. For instance, Facebook doesn’t want to “forget” that you like cupcakes or any of your other interests. Or, Amazon might let you set the option to ignore certain purchases when generating suggestions, but it doesn’t stop them from pushing ads to you on partner sites based on your browsing history. Krishna maybe assumes too much that the systems we will use in the future will have our best interests in mind over their own.
In conclusion, is the best interface no interface? It depends. Certain user interactions like email and calendars require an interface. Other interactions may require an interface to serve up advertising – the necessary evil for free services – such as public kiosks and alike. In the world of advertising, some interface designs are fun, engaging, beautiful and memorable, but many more are irritating, repetitive, offensive or irrelevant. UX and UI designers should most certainly question whether an interface is the right solution, and if it is, those same designers should strive to make it the best damn interface they can.