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Designing for the Invisible Interface

By Mohan Krishnaraj, Global Head of User Experience at HARMAN, a Samsung company

Mohan Krishnaraj, Global Head of User Experience at HARMAN, a Samsung company

Just as technology has developed over the years, so has our relationship with it. With our dependence proceeding so fast, it’s hard to imagine living in a world not bound by devices-butthat is where we are heading.

Boomer, xennial, millennial, centennial—it doesn't matter. There are certain experiences that are very personal to us. Humanizing technology has become critical as technology itself continues to advance.

Though different device form factors continue to hold a critical place in how we live our daily lives, consumers will continue demanding options that fit their style seamlessly—making Zero UI and its metonyms-such as screen-less experiences, boundary-less UI, invisible interfaces—go mainstream. Creating contextual experiences that extend beyond the screen and weave the digital and physical worlds so tightly together will continue to rule the roost.

The future of designing for Zero UI requires a more comprehensive look at, well, the human experience. Here are a few baseline design elements for a trend that will change our lives in the next few years—or maybe days.

Use creative cues that trigger feelings of nostalgia

The rotary phone. The beeper. The fax machine. The film camera. These devices were revolutionary upon invention, and they may all be inessential with advanced technologies now, but a parallel experience that can rekindle nostalgic memories will rule 2018 and beyond.

“The future of designing for Zero UI requires a more comprehensive look at, well, the human experience”

Today, we have mind-blowing technologies– AR/VR, AI, voice and facial recognition, and location-based services – but there is evidence of a stronger play of nostalgia to enable the worldwide success of most popular applications of these advancements. A sentimental view of the past brings you back in time momentarily and taps into emotions.

Most brands find it counterintuitive for a backward-looking moment to inspire current emotional state, but that’s exactly what is working well. From creative marketing campaigns to logo designs to even specific color palettes, nostalgic memories make people more open to new experiences.

Augment on empathy-driven experiences

People crave experiences that they can connect with on an emotional level – tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs.An empathetic approach allows brands to discover who its customers are, what they really want, and what they are prepared to pay for. 

In the future, all end users would like to interact with an interface in an emotional mode – making the case stronger for empathy-driven experiences. While it’s true that interfaces have been largely unable to comprehend feelings and take them into account, that could change with the latest emotion AI.

Build your strategy around digital-physical fusion

The way digital and physical worlds are now operating has dramatically changed over the last decade. To resonate with consumers, regardless of age and interface, businesses will need to locate the nexus where digital and physical connect.

For example, the latest developments in reality technologies like mixed reality do not just overlay a digital layer to virtual objects, but also lets users interact with it in newer ways with gesture and voice-based inputs. It creates an environment where digital and physical objects coexist for a truly immersive experience. Businesses are beginning to explore a variety of use cases, especially inpatient care and manufacturing. 

Bring in aspects of minimalism

With digital innovation embracing the concept of personalization, a lifestyle of minimalism has emerged. Minimalism in design has brought back design to its core. For a screenless world, the simplicity this brings reduces designer anxiety and unclutters user experiences.

One of the key advances that has changed HMI (Human Machine Interaction) technology over the past few years is the aspect of minimalism. Designers are stripping away all unnecessary elements and focusing on what needs to be there. In this sense, minimalism encourages purpose.

Reckon on skeuomorphism

Skeuomorphism is a concept of making items represent their real-world counterparts. Fostering a sense of familiarity by imitating and applying characteristics of real world objects to invisible interfaces make it easy for people to interact.

Take, for example, smart watches that mimic analogue watch faces or apps that closely resemble age-old calculators. There are many other examples like these in the digital world that provide clues to a potential use or action. It gets easier to perceive these visual clues and act on them by shortening the learning curve. Even the present day voice assistants that attempt to sound like humans have an element of skeuomorphism.

On the whole, we need to respect the threshold between helpful features and being overly enthusiastic with zero UI. Forcing a difficult-to-use interface, whether visible or not, can put the relationship between a user and your brand at risk.

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