Thought-provoking post by Tony Aubé: “No UI is the New UI”
There’s just one problem, “no UI” in this case just means “not the UI you’re accustomed to”, but more on that in a minute.
If you don’t know about these apps, what make them special is that they don’t use a traditional UI as a mean of interaction. Instead, the entire app revolves around a single messaging screen. These are called ‘Invisible’ and ‘Conversational’ apps…
Great! Cool! Interesting! But let’s get our terms straight here. Let’s recall that “UI” stands for “user interface” or (semi-formally) the mechanism through which a user interacts or interfaces with the system (be it software or hardware). If SMS is or some other “simple messaging” is the primary interaction modality, then that is the UI–which is very different from something having “no UI”.1
In my Medium response to this post, I mentioned that “even your smoke detector” has a UI, even if that UI is “just” a little light, a button, and some annoying-ass low-battery chirps at 3 o’clock in the goddamn morning.
The really interesting questions getting raised here are around what a user interface is, and how much of it can you take away. Can you shield people from the complexity of buttons and search boxes and hamburger menus? Can your app do its thing through a “chat” modality? Or is that going to be confusing? Can you lose the visual interface all together, a la Siri?
These are great questions to be asking, and I’ll admit that I’m among the ones who are taking that for granted.
- And/but/so as an aside: Aubé also has this semi-throw-away line about the chat modality.
Text is constant, it doesn’t carry all the ambiguous information that other forms of communication do, such as voice or gestures.
This stuck me as unfortunately naïve since, after all, one of the main reasons that we (as human beings) get burned over and over again in our non-verbal communication is because there is plenty of ambiguousness. Our written words are usually a stand-in for our spoken words. And so if your speech tends to lean sarcastic, then I suspect that your written words will follow. [↩]