Zero UI Is Fast Approaching, But It’s A Long Way From Optimal

Zero UI Is Fast Approaching, But It’s A Long Way From Optimal
Design

Michael Olaye, CEO of digital creative agency DARE, considers how UI designers can prepare for a future of voice commands

PSFK Op-Eds
  • 18 january 2018

By 2020, Gartner predicts that 30% of web browsing will be done via screenless interactions like voice commands, gestures and eye tracking. That’s only two years away. Two years. Seeing as Google Home only just learned how to multitask the other month, there’s still a way to go.

To make Zero User Interface a reality, it needs to get more human. Not to the point where you close your eyes and can’t tell the difference between your wife’s voice and Siri’s—it’s all down to smart experience planning. Put simply, these ground-breaking platforms—and the teams behind them—need to get better at digesting and interpreting human language.

AI assistants like Alexa and Siri often struggle when handling anything other than simple, direct and usually binary commands. How many times have you asked your preferred assistant a question and it’s misheard you, searching for something completely unrelated?

The meaning behind the question needs to be interpreted on a more sophisticated level for the conversation to continue. Information needs to be converted into commands.

Amazon has cleverly tackled this with Alexa for Business. Rather than try to be everything at once, this new model is bespoke for business. It has a purpose, rather than being something you might buy in the Black Friday sales. Compatible with Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Exchange and Google G Suite, it caters to a range of prospective customers while still being niche. Rather than cast its net too wide—as some would argue Alexa’s original incarnation did—Alexa for Business has the potential to take us into the next phase of Zero UI.

To develop a nonlinear way of thinking and to manage the complex user interactions they’ll no doubt encounter, designers could do with specializing, compartmentalizing Zero UI into relevant sectors like Alexa for Business appears to have done.

Because if the future is screenless—if the goal is to essentially replace the screens with thin air—then most of the tasks our current Zero UI companions perform are superfluous.

If a screenless interface is operating at a McDonald’s drive-thru, it doesn’t need to know all the answers. It doesn’t need to tell you which years King Henry VIII occupied the English throne, nor should it feel obliged to answer, “Do you love me?”, like poor Siri has to.

To become more complex, AI needs to simplify and diversify. With a finite amount of information available to both users and machines to complete tasks like the McDonald’s one, there’s less room for error. What this means isn’t minimalism for the sake of being trendy, but a limited bank of resource to complete a task of equally limited ability.

Alexa for Business will—hopefully—thrive because it’s locked within certain parameters. It can excel at what it’s been designed to do, streamlining operations and sharing the load with employees rather than replacing them.

The human preference of Graphical User Interfaces is an obvious issue, and a potential hindrance to Zero UI. Apple’s skeuomorphic design did wonders for the company and its tech; it took us into uncharted territories while keeping one foot grounded in the archaic imagery of notepads, camera shutters and so on. It gave us the future while constantly referencing the past.

Zero UI can’t do this as effectively. It runs the risk of placing a huge cognitive strain on users, asking them to retain information rather than presenting them with visual options. So to be effective, it’s got to get to the point. If Siri, in its current state, manned a customer support line, it would last two minutes. The comfort of the screen may not be there, but Zero UI can replicate that familiarity with an uncanny knowledge of the subject at hand. Nobody’s expecting it to hold an in-depth conversation about the works of James Joyce, but by ascertaining:

  • What we want from Zero UI (convenience)
  • Why we want it (to create a seamless tech/human harmony within our hectic lives)
  • How we get there (by stripping it down and siloing its functions)

Only then we can usher in the era of Zero UI. Not as a novelty, nor something exclusively for the wealthy, but as a ubiquity. A screenless revolution is surely possible if we want it.

Michael Olaye is CEO of digital creative agency DARE. He combines disruptive creative thinking with an encyclopedic knowledge of digital technology and engineering, having worked for the past 17 years as a coding engineer and technical director at world-renowned brands and agencies alike. His work has spanned brands including adidas, Nike, Vans, New Balance, MTV, Guinness, COI, Credit Suisse, Chivas, Ella’s Kitchen, Durex and Whittards of London, to name just a few. Away from the office, he’s also a keen Capoerista.


Lead Image: Jason Rosewell | Unsplash

By 2020, Gartner predicts that 30% of web browsing will be done via screenless interactions like voice commands, gestures and eye tracking. That’s only two years away. Two years. Seeing as Google Home only just learned how to multitask the other month, there’s still a way to go.

+AI
+amazon
+Amazon Alexa
+artificial intelligence
+consumer goods
+customer support
+Design
+Europe
+Fashion
+financial services
+fitness / sport
+Google
+google assistant
+home
+Luxury
+Microsoft
+nike
+op-ed
+Public
+retail
+Siri
+technology
+UI
+UK
+USA
+UX
+voice assistants
+work

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