The best interface is no interface


Getting our work done was an alphabet soup nightmare.




Then, in 1984, Apple adopted Xerox PARC’s WIMP — window, icon, menu, pointer — and took us a galactic leap forward away from those horrifying command lines of DOS, and into a world of graphical user interfaces.

Apple’s Lisa. (Source: Guidebook Gallery)

We were converted. And a decade later, when we could touch the Palm Pilot instead of dragging a mouse, we were even more impressed. But today, our love for the digital interface has gotten out-of-control.

It’s become the answer to every design problem.

How do you make a better car? Slap an interface in it.

Speedometer in BMW’s Mini Cooper. (Source: BMW)

Who doesn’t want Twitter functionality inside their speedometer? (Source: CNET)

How do you make a better refrigerator? Slap an interface on it.

“Upgrade your life” with a better refrigerator door. (Source: Samsung)

Love to check my tweets when getting some water from the fridge. (Source: Samsung)

How do you make a better hotel lobby? Slap an interface in it.

(Source: IDEO)

A giant touchscreen with news and weather is exactly what’s missing from my hotel stay. (Source: IDEO)

Creative minds in technology should focus on solving problems. Not just make interfaces.

As Donald Norman said in 1990, “The real problem with the interface is that it is an interface. Interfaces get in the way. I don’t want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job…I don’t want to think of myself as using a computer, I want to think of myself as doing my job.”

It’s time for us to move beyond screen-based thinking. Because when we think in screens, we design based upon a model that is inherently unnatural, inhumane, and has diminishing returns. It requires a great deal of talent, money and time to make these systems somewhat usable, and after all that effort, the software can sadly, only truly improve with a major overhaul.

There is a better path: No UI. A design methodology that aims to produce a radically simple technological future without digital interfaces. Following three simple principles, we can design smarter, more useful systems that make our lives better.

Principle 1: Eliminate interfaces to embrace natural processes.

Several car companies have recently created smartphone apps that allow drivers to unlock their car doors. Generally, the unlocking feature plays out like this:

  1. A driver approaches her car.
  2. Takes her smartphone out of her purse.
  3. Turns her phone on.
  4. Slides to unlock her phone.
  5. Enters her passcode into her phone.
  6. Swipes through a sea of icons, trying to find the app.
  7. Taps the desired app icon.
  8. Waits for the app to load.
  9. Looks at the app, and tries figure out (or remember) how it works.
  10. Makes a best guess about which menu item to hit to unlock doors and taps that item.
  11. Taps a button to unlock the doors.
  12. The car doors unlock.
  13. She opens her car door.

Thirteen steps later, she can enter her car.

The app forces the driver to use her phone. She has to learn a new interface. And the experience is designed around the flow of the computer, not the flow of a person.

If we eliminate the UI, we’re left with only three, natural steps:

  1. A driver approaches her car.
  2. The car doors unlock.
  3. She opens her car door.

Anything beyond these three steps should be frowned upon.

Seem crazy? Well, this was solved by Mercedes-Benz in 1999. Please watch the first 22 seconds of this incredibly smart (but rather unsexy) demonstration:

(Source: YouTube)

Thanks “Chris.”

By reframing design constraints from the resolution of the iPhone to our natural course of actions, Mercedes created an incredibly intuitive, and wonderfully elegant car entry. The car senses that the key is nearby, and the door opens without any extra work.

That’s good design thinking. After all, especially when designing around common tasks, the best interface is no interface.

Another example.

A few companies, including Google, have built smartphone apps that allow customers to pay merchants using NFC. Here’s the flow:

  1. A shopper enters a store.
  2. Orders a sandwich.
  3. Takes his smartphone out of his pocket.
  4. Turns his phone on.
  5. Slides to unlock.
  6. Enters his passcode into the phone.
  7. Swipes through a sea of icons, trying to find the Google Wallet app.
  8. Taps the desired app icon.
  9. Waits for the app to load.
  10. Looks at the app, and tries figure out (or remember) how it works.
  11. Makes a best guess about which menu item to hit to to reveal his credit cards linked to Google Wallet. In this case, “payment types.”
  12. Swipes to find the credit card his would like to use.
  13. Taps that desired credit card.
  14. Finds the NFC receiver near the cash register.
  15. Taps his smartphone to the NFC receiver to pay.
  16. Sits down and eats his sandwich.

If we eliminate the UI, we’re again left with only three, natural steps:

  1. A shopper enters a store.
  2. Orders a sandwich.
  3. Sits down and eats his sandwich.

Asking for an item to a person behind a register is a natural interaction. And that’s all it takes to pay with Auto Tab in Pay with Square. Start at 2:08:

(Source: YouTube)

Auto Tab in Pay with Square does require some UI to get started. But by using location awareness behind-the-scenes, the customer doesn’t have to deal with UI, and can simply pursue his natural course of actions.

As Jack Dorsey of Square explains above, “NFC is another thing you have to do. It’s another action you have to take. And it’s not the most human action to wave a device around another device and wait for a beep. It just doesn’t feel right.”

Principle 2: Leverage computers instead of catering to them.

No UI is about machines helping us, instead of us adapting for computers.

With UI, we are faced with counterintuitive interaction methods that are tailored to the needs of a computer. We are forced to navigate complex databases to obtain simple information. We are required to memorize countless passwords with rules like one capital letter, two numbers and a punctuation mark. And most importantly, we’re constantly pulled away from the stuff we actually want to be doing.

A Windows 2000 password requirement. (Source: Microsoft)

By embracing No UI, the design focuses on your needs. There’s no interface for the sake of interface. Instead, computers are catered to you.

Your car door unlocks when you walk up to it. Your TV turns on to the channel you want to watch. Your alarm clock sets itself, and even wakes you up at the right REM moment.

Even your car lets you know when something is wrong:

(Source: YouTube)

When we let go of screen-based thinking, we design purely to the needs of a person. Afterall, good experience design isn’t about good screens, it’s about good experiences.

Principle 3: Create a system that adapts for people.

I know, you’re great.

You’re a unique, amazingly complex individual, filled with your own interests and desires.

So building a great UI for you is hard. It takes open-minded leaders, great research, deep insights...let’s put it this way: it’s challenging.

So why are companies spending millions of dollars simply to make inherently unnatural interfaces feel somewhat natural for you? And even more puzzling, why do they continue to do so, when UI often has a diminishing rate of return?

Think back to when you first signed up for Gmail. Once you discovered innovative features like conversation view, you were hugely rewarded. But over time, the rate of returns have diminished. The interface has become stale.

Sadly, the obvious way for Google to give you another leap forward is to have its designers and engineers spend an incredible amount of time and effort to redesign. And when they do, you will be faced with the pain of learning how to interact with the new interface; some things will work better for you, and some things will be worse for you.

Alternatively, No UI systems focus on you. These systems aren’t bound by the constraints of screens, but instead are able to organically and rapidly grow to fit your needs.

For example, let’s talk about Trunk Club.

It’s a fashion startup.

They think of themselves as a service, not a software company or an app-maker. That’s an important mind set which is lost on many startups today. It means they serve people, not screens.

And I guess if we’re going to talk about Trunk Club, I’ve got to mention a few of their peers: Bombfell, Unscruff, Swag of the Month and ManPacks.

After you sign up for Trunk Club, you have an introductory conversation with a stylist. Then, they send your first trunk of clothes. What you like, you keep. What you don’t like, you send back. Based on your returns and what you keep, Trunk Club learns more and more about you, giving you better and better results each time.

Diminishing rate of return over time? Nay, increasing returns.

Without a bulky UI, it’s easier to become more and more relevant. For fashion, the best interface is no interface.

Another company focused on adapting to your needs is Nest.

When I first saw Nest, I thought they had just slapped an interface on a thermometer and called it “innovation.”

As time passes, the need to use Nest’s UI diminishes. (Source: YouTube)

But there’s something special about the Nest thermostat: it doesn’t want to have a UI.

Nest studies you. It tracks when you wake up. What temperatures you prefer over the course of the day. Nest works hard to eliminate the need for its own UI by learning about you.

Haven’t I heard this before?

The foundation for No UI has been laid by countless other members of the design community.

In 1988, Mark Weiser of Xerox PARC coined “ubiquitous computing.” In 1995, this was part of his abstract on Calm Technology:

“The impact of technology will increase ten-fold as it is imbedded in the fabric of everyday life. As technology becomes more imbedded and invisible, it calms our lives by removing annoyances while keeping us connected with what is truly important.”

In 1998, Donald Norman wrote “The Invisible Computer.” From the publisher:

“...Norman shows why the computer is so difficult to use and why this complexity is fundamental to its nature. The only answer, says Norman, is to start over again, to develop information appliances that fit people's needs and lives.”

In 1999, Kevin Ashton gave a talk about “The Internet of Things.” His words:

“If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost.”

Today, we finally have the technology to achieve a lot of these goals.

This past year, Amber Case talked about Weiser-inspired location awareness.

There’s a lot we can achieve with some of our basic tools today.

Let’s keep talking.

Oh, there’s so much more to say:

Watch the Cooper Parlor. After this essay exploded on Twitter, Cooper hosted a No UI event with special guest, design legend Donald Norman.

Listen to "The best interface is no interface" at SXSW. Thanks for reading this essay, tweeting about it, and generously pressuring SXSW to accept this talk. Thanks to you, I will be speaking about "The best interface is no interface" at SXSW 2013.

Discuss on Branch. Join the conversation on Branch about the world of No UI.

Follow the No UI Tumblr. I'm collecting more case studies, more examples and articles about the technology that can help us eliminate the interface on Tumblr. Get inspired at

Comment below. Where do you see No UI opportunities?

Related Reading

Special thanks: to everyone at Cooper and all those who have helped, particularly Stefan Klocek, Chris Noessel, Doug LeMoine and Meghan Gordon.

Corrections: the original version of this article referred to "Pay with Square" as "Pay by Square", incorrectly stated the published date of "The Invisible Computer" and cited Adam Greenfield.


The actual work-flow of the NFC enabled Google Wallet is actually already much simpler than what you present. 1. Unlock phone, 2. Tap NFC enabled payment device with your phone, 3. Wallet auto starts, enter Wallet PIN, 4. Pay using default payment method"
Golden Krishna
@Matthew: Thanks. I didn't know that you could activate the Google NFC app by tapping your smartphone to an NFC receiver. That's interesting. I'm not sure how much simpler this really is though, it seems like we could only combine two of the 16 steps. Either way, the example isn't really about whether it's 16 or 12 or 14 steps, but rather about embracing the principle: "eliminate interfaces to embrace natural processes."
Nate Clinton
The opportunity for No UI in automobiles is ripe, and already pretty rich. Proximity sensors to prevent collisions in reverse. Keyless ignition. Driverless parallel parking. Driverless driving. Crash avoidance technologies that automatically brake or steer when something dangerous is about to happen, but there is no input from the driver. Adaptive cruise control. And so on. There are still a few auto features I wish existed that nobody seems to have created yet, like something to prevent the car battery from ever depleting to the point that it can't start the engine. (Left the headlights on? Car, just turn them off if the battery is near empty!) Thinking some more about it, No UI is really predicated on the ubiquity of sensors. It's less and less about megapixels and gigahertz, and more and more about NFC and GPS and proximity and light meters. We have a GPS-capable smartphone strapped to our hips, enabling all kinds of interesting No UI systems. So, another question to ask in the No UI conversation is: what sensors are not yet ubiquitous that make No UI more possible, or better? This goes beyond just sensing physical things. What about human sensors? A few imaginary examples of human things to measure that might make great No UI: mood, fatigue, motivation, distraction, desire.
Golden Krishna
@Nate Thanks! I agree that the auto industry could greatly benefit from No UI thinking. We don't have time (nor is it safe) to play with confusing interfaces while driving. Great idea about the obvious, so simple, all car manufacturers should consider it. And mood sensors? Perhaps using Kinect we could detect smiles, frowns, etc. Not sure about the applications of that kind of knowledge, but fascinating to wonder. Maybe an Xbox Live game of amateur standup? Points if your jokes are making some people that are frowning, smile? More for making others laugh?
Great writeup. I was just commenting on how LCD interfaces are popping up in cars so much now to replace the more tactile radio dials and switches. It's a big fail because it demands visual interaction while driving when tactile was good enough. I wondered if it was a cost decision.
Golden Krishna
@Kurt: Thanks. Great point. One of our Cooper designers, Glen Davis, has been doing a lot of research into car dashboards. Sadly, there are a lot of examples of screens slapped into interiors that do nothing but mimic physical controls. Erik van Blokland of Letterror tweeted a few days ago, "The car radios of 2012 resemble the mobile phones of 2007. Useless chrome, vestigial buttons, copycat layouts."
Mike Kelland
Absolutely love this article. This is the approach we're taking at Tindr with a number of projects - focusing on the "invisible user experience" (iue). We wrote about it here: Thanks for writing this article! Mike
Golden Krishna
@Mike: Thanks for your comment and passing along the article. Looks like our Wordpress didn't pick up on the link, here it is for everyone else. Really excited to hear about the direction at Tindr.
Rachel McClung
Great article, I agree we don't always need a digital interface. However, even without an interface there are still some tedious steps that remain for analog users. For example, when paying for an item using traditional methods, there's still a few steps between ordering a sandwich and eating a sandwich. Open wallet, dig for cash, give to cashier, accept change back. Or open wallet, search for credit card, review amount, input pin, stow card and paper receipt. And so on.
Golden Krishna
@Rachel: Thanks! You're right, when we look for solutions, we should always be trying to better whatever exists, analog or digital.
Jeff Nichols
I think the call to simplify and remove interfaces when they're not needed is great, and I would love to see more designs come out that allow me to fluidly interact with the complexities of the real world. That said, I feel like some of the argument here comes down to "wouldn't everything be great if my tools could read my mind." For example, there's no doubt that paying by asking for an item from a guy across the counter would be an awesome interface, but that way oversimplifies the interactions that take place around purchasing an item. What if I just want to inspect the item before I buy it? I'd rather learn and use a somewhat awkward explicit interaction to pay than have to remember to alter my habitual behavior to ensure that I don't pay. My point: if we want to have effective tools, then we need to have effective means of communicating our intentions to them that address the complexities of the situations that we face. Sometimes we may able to get away without having a UI if our intentions can be sensed reliably, but other times we will need to have some sort of UI. This will be true until we have machines that can read our minds.
Golden Krishna
@Jeff: I think you nailed it with this phrase, "Sometimes we may able to get away without having a UI if our intentions can be sensed reliably, but other times we will need to have some sort of UI." In the best case, we have no interface. In other examples, like Nest above, a UI might be necessary to get started. Ideally, we should find ways to avoid the need for a UI.
Sunil Malhotra
You just joined the world's greats! Wow what a piece! The brilliance of this is blinding. "Here's To The Crazy Ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world - are the ones who DO !" ~ Apple Computers ~
Golden Krishna
@Sunil: I'm speechless. I don't deserve this level of flattery: "The brilliance of this is blinding." Thank you. Being compared to Jack Kerouac's "Here's to the crazy ones" is more than I deserve. This idea is built upon great ideas of many people who thought of them years before I even started writing this blog post.
Arun (sreearun)
Interesting thoughts. I won’t say I have fully comprehended the article. One of the important aspects of the UI design is something that follows the natural laws of entropy. You simplify at one end at the expense of complicating at the other. That is why traditional UIs have some level of complexity delegated to the user. Even so, I haven’t thought it to be not possible to ‘keep things simple’ and so am not discounting the approach though I feel some more thinking has to be done (atleast by me).
Paul Prescod
All you've done is list a series of situations where people made different design trade-offs and gained some benefits at a cost of features that others were unwilling to trade off. You handwave over the fact that NFC is designed to work in any store and the PayByTab thing only works at individually pre-approved stores. That's not a minor detail. It's a completely different use-case. Heck, NFC might well be an enabling technology for allowing us to pre-approved these stores. Or maybe, once we get used to waving our phone at gas stations that we've never been to before we won't consider it a big additional step to do the same at our local coffee shop. According to the magazine Auto Express, some of these Mercedes cars can be driven away while the driver is refueling. Even ignoring that, you are comparing a single feature to an app that can start your air conditioner while you are still at your desk, or tell you where your car is after you lose it in a mall parking lot. Unlocking the car is the least interesting and least discussed feature of these apps. BMW has *both* smart locks *and* smart apps. Not because they are stupid. But because they fulfill totally different requirements. If you are willing to jettison requirements (e.g. security, no-setup process, limited feature set) you can simplify the user interface. That's obvious. The analysis comes in determining when the requirements that drove someone to build an "interface" were false requirements and when they were real. Which is why usability labs are not a waste of money.
Golden Krishna
@Paul: NFC is incredible technology. The point of the example is not to say that NFC is a bad idea, rather that Square has found a way to utilize their technology in a way that works with the natural flow of the customer...and that approach should be applauded.

I'm not sure about the auto-driving feature, it's not something mentioned in the article above; I'm sure there are plenty of bad design examples we could point to but that doesn't mean good design isn't possible.

The beauty of the given Mercedes example is that it solves the problem in context. In other words, it works when you need it to work. The door, for example, opens when you need it to open. As for air conditioning needs, Toyota actually came up with a great context-aware solution a few years ago. When your car is parked and it's hot outside, the Prius cools itself so that the interior isn't overwhelming when you return to your car. And the whole thing works with solar panels, which are naturally charged on hot days. Pretty impressive:
Interesting article. But this still frames the discussion as if a UI were a necessary evil - something that gets between you and the task, and which should be made as painless, intuitive, or non-existent as possible. I'm interested in interfaces where the interface is part of the goal. Situations where the the noise is the signal. Setting my alarm clock is invariably tedious. I would love this UI to be improved or to go away. But hitting the snooze button is great fun. I do not want my alarm clock to correctly guess via machine learning algorithms that I get up 15 minutes later on Tuesdays, and set itself to go off 15 minutes later. I enjoy hitting the snooze button and hearing the thing shut up. A car that drives itself would be great if I were in the mood for reading. But it would be rubbish if I were in the mood for driving.
Golden Krishna
@Jon I think you point out a necessary feature in any system, which is the ability to be able to opt-in or out. Something may benefit a huge percentage of population, but might not help you at all. For example, a lot of people love their smartphone, but a good percentage of the population wouldn't ever want one. (See this Atlantic article). Some food for thought: if the No UI system is truly created to adapt for your needs, it would know you like to hit snooze.
Carlos Pero
I believe one factor worth mentioning is that some people still like having a measure of control. Perhaps it's generational, or perhaps it's a type of personality. I don't think the Minority Report future where ubiquitous scanners detect your every move in anticipation or cars with navigation that can be ultimately overridden is a good thing. But I still agree we have too many poorly-designed screens.
Golden Krishna
@Carlos: You're right. There are a lot of small things that computer can solve for us, but being able to turn off your computer should always be an option.
Paul W. Homer
I completely agree and this is one of those issues about the tech industry that has been frustrating me for decades. I think the root causes come from a steady flow of new people into technology and from some people really liking to fiddle with things. For the first issue, the most visible and understandable part of software is a pretty interface, although it is rarely anything more than 10% of the system. So it goes back to the old quote that "If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.". Inexperienced people get hyper-focused on 'making interfaces' for everything, while not understanding the larger context of the problem. You have some great examples of this. Most software is a bloated mess of tangled inconsistent screens that are impossible to navigate, and each new generation simply goes back to that as their starting point. But there is also a drive by many techies to fiddle as well. They love little delicate parts that they can play with and they tend to be very vocal about wanting more control over stuff. There is nothing wrong with that, but instead of being the main interface, it should really be a secondary one. Thus the default should be that the problem is solved properly for you, and then only if you want, you can tweak it a bit. However, given that the people who want to fiddle are the same people building the interfaces, they tend to project their desires onto their users, so you get a huge amount of stuff that might work well, but needs some obscene amount of configuration to get it there. And screens choked with messy tiny buttons and hidden sub-features, most of which are unused. Given our current progress over the last two decades I figure that in probably a ten more these types of issues will finally get taken seriously ... Paul.
Golden Krishna
@Paul W. Homer: Thanks! Great insights. I had a draft of this post with the very quote you used, "if the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." Very apt.
Dan W
A driver approaches her car. The car doors unlock. She opens her car door.
That's great, but what if I don't want to open the door? And how do I know if the door has magically locked itself again when I walk away? How can I understand the state of the system I am interacting with it, and trust that it is working correctly?
Golden Krishna
@Dan W: Great questions. The door unlocks when you pull up the handle. The feedback is in noise -- hearing the locks unlock -- and in sight -- seeing the lock indicator on the door pop up.
Jamie H
Whilst you make some interesting points, it would make the article and message more credible if you didn't grossly exaggerate the shortcomings of current solutions. Even if you gave the best-case step by step algorithm for unlocking the car using an application (lets say 6 steps) it still would have been much worse than the 3 step algorithm. I have read About Face 3 and feel that the same thing could be said of that, the book could have been a third of the size if it cut out the waffle and didn't repeat itself quite as much. I respect the work and ideas but I really feel the communication needs to improve. Make it more about the good ideas and less about how indignant you are towards current idioms.
Golden Krishna
@Jamie H: Thanks. Happy to hear your reaction to the ideas. As for the number of steps, I thought the most reasonable thing to do would be to give a typical use case. You're right, whatever the number of steps, the point of the example is to show that it's possible to do elegantly without a UI. Thanks for helping me refine the idea.
Keith Conover
Here's another example of an interfaceless interface. I use headlamps for caving, climbing, search and rescue, or sometimes just reading in bed. They're not hard to control. Usually you just press a button on the top a couple of times to set it the way you want. Petzl, a top-tier French outdoor equipment manufacturer, has a new headlight called the Nao. I just got one. It has a light meter, cleverly integrated. If I'm looking far away into the dark, the light is a fairly narrow but bright focused beam. If I look down at the map or Task Assignment Form in my hand, the light senses this by reflected light, and switches to a much less bright, diffuse light for reading. If I walk into a brightly-lit building and forget to turn off my headlight, it senses this, and after a while, flashes four times and then turns itself off. A far cry from my everyday work environment as a physician in a trauma center Emergency Department. There I have to deal with medical software that violates almost every principle of usability. I even have a blog totally devoted to the usability of medical software: It might seem unfair to have so many negative observations there, but medical software is such an inviting target... Thank you.
Golden Krishna
@Keith: Wow. Great example. "Reactive lighting." I'd love to mention that if I get a chance to speak at SXSW. Looks like our Wordpress garbled up your link, here's a page explaining the lamps for everyone to see the innovative headlamp. Love the idea. Who would ever want to mess with a headlamp when caving, climbing, and doing search and rescue?

As for the failings in the medical world, I hear you. There are a sad number of shortcomings when it comes to technology that could save lives. I hope your blog -- -- can lead to innovations.
I'd prefer that you not cite me if you're going to miss the point of my work so completely, thanks.
Golden Krishna
@AG: Sure. I removed the citation.
This is a very well written article. I like how you used examples like Nest and the Mini to illustrate your point. I have been saying for years that the best interface is a minimal interface, or none at all. It just makes more sense to not learn something than to have to learn something. Leveraging what you already know is the key to success-- some companies that are named after a particular fruit understand this fact more than others. I think things like "charms bars" and "ribbons" are the worst offenders--they add very little to the functionality yet become a huge distraction barrier for new users, or old users who are already accustomed to something else.
Golden Krishna
@Ankur: Thanks! It's really great to hear such a coalescence of thought. I like your phrase, "It just makes more sense to not learn something than to have to learn something. Leveraging what you already know is the key to success."
Andy L.
Nice post. It reminds me of a point I read recently in Donald Norman's Living with Complexity — that good design can shift complexity away from the user and onto the system. That is, onto the engineers and developers who have to make things work in the background with minimal input. That's what Mercedes and Square accomplished. I don't know that no interface is always best, though. With something like Photoshop or a sound mixing board, the interface gives you many controls and options to manipulate your product. No interface seems to really apply to repeated tasks that are a means to an end, and aren't opportunities for creativity. Like setting your thermostat.
Golden Krishna
@Andy L.: Thanks! Yes. Donald Norman's writing is definitely an influence on this post. He will actually be attending our discussion of this blog post at Cooper on September 19th. Actually, a lot of people have asked, "Well, how would you rebuild Photoshop without UI? What about Word?" I think those questions are misguided because those things are software. They're not problems to be solved. If those things are reframed to the problems of photo editing, or writing, I think there is potential for No UI solutions.
Paul Perrick
I wholeheartedly agree with with you concerning putting a UI where it isn't needed. I worked as a developer in a data entry environment where the "interface" was a command line based screen. They owners wanted to upgrade to windows versions (we retained all of the same shortcuts and workflows) and productivity dropped around 25%. On the flip-side, software companies want to remove the interface where it's actually needed. On a home PC with Windows 8 for example, there's an attempt to simplify the interface to be "phone-like." Getting things done can then become more difficult.
Golden Krishna
@Paul Perrick: Thanks Paul. And thanks for the examples. You know, it's easy to do bad design, it's hard to do good design, and it's very hard to do a great design. Going No UI can be a big upfront challenge, but the payoffs are substantial. Love the fridge photo, btw. A co-worker here at Cooper, Nate Clinton, sent this to me after the blog post was published:
Jim Bob
The consequences for security are exponentially multiplied when the devices broadcast constantly, and are subject to wireless input constantly too. Many many more opportunities to obtain assets and data than previously? Is it possible now to shut a car down without touching it, even if you're not the owner? Yes. Is it easier to observe account transactions? Yes. Is it easier to stalk individuals with broadcasting devices? Yes.
Golden Krishna
@Jim Bob: Security questions definitely surround any wireless technology. For example, our cellphones and wifi networks that we rely on everyday are definitely potential targets. But security systems are in place for these things, and can be put in place for No UI systems as well. There's a security threat with any kind of technology, a well-thought-out system takes those risks into account.
I think the article grossly oversimplifies present interaction. Let's take the sandwich example. Let me demonstrate: 1. A shopper enters a store. 2. Orders a sandwich. 3. Pulls out wallet 4. Browse through wallet to find cash 5. Since there's no cash, browse through wallet to find a credit card 6. Insert credit card into terminal 7. Enter pincode (assuming the person can remember it) 8. Wait several seconds for the transaction to complete 9. Wait for the receipt to be printed. 10. Sits down and eats his sandwich. This is perhaps exaggeration too, but so is the example with google wallet. If you want to have a real discussion about interface vs. no-interface, dont cheap shot it by glorifying present systems.
Golden Krishna
@Kevin: You're right that there's no reason to glorify present systems. As I mentioned to Rachel above, when we look for solutions, we should always be trying to better whatever exists, analog or digital.
Jay Nathan
This is great. I wrote about the smart fridge here. This is a miss based on the assumption that having a computer inside a fridge is useful (as you pointed out).
If you're going to include steps such as "Waits for the app to load," or "Looks at the app," then in fairness the TrunkClub UI is potentially weeks more time consuming than going to a store or ordering clothes yourself from a website. Just because you don't fill out a form, that doesn't mean there's no User Interface. The initial conversation with the stylist is an interface. The results of that interaction is probably not your ideal wardrobe, so they include a label for sending clothes back, and based on what you send back they make a better educated guess at what would work for you. So potentially you're looking at several repeats of steps like: 1. Talk to stylist. 2. Wait for trunk to arrive. 3. Try on each piece in the trunk. 4. Repack what didn't fit or what you didn't like. Ship them back. 5. Wait for TrunkClub to analyze the returned items and adjust their suggestions. 6. Repeat steps 2 through 5. Maybe one time, maybe a hundred times. X. You have 10 items you like. Win! Going to the store could be much fewer steps than that, and you can come home with 10 items the same day. Not saying TrunkClub is a bad service or experience, but the author of this article does not treat it fairly in comparison to the apps he's putting down.
The best interface is no interface... ...unless something goes wrong.
Jacob M.
The proposed designs for door opening and paying lack a verification of intent stage. The pay one is particularly troublesome for privacy and security reasons. Not everyone who pings your smart card requesting a debit has permission to debit, or even to peek at the id codes necessary to establish communication.
Interesting article, but UIs are still needed until computers are able to read people's mind and act accordingly. An interesing and not scaring at all future for sure. And even then they might guess it wrong. Don't underestimate people dumb with computers sometimes having complex needs. What I propose is this optimized approach to only two steps for whatever action you can think of: - I think of something - magic computer does it instantly for me No need for cumbersome computers, it is all handled by pure magic!
"Sadly, the obvious way for Google to give you another leap forward is to have its designers and engineers spend an incredible amount of time and effort to redesign." So, I'm not sure if you watched the Google I/O presentation this year, but they unveiled a service on their Nexux7 tablet called 'Now', doing exactly what you describe: giving you the information that you need, when you need it. Their product page is here: The problem, of course, is that doing these reactive/'no interface' designs takes all of the work out of the designer's hands and into the computational data-modeling robots. You don't have to do this, when there is a human in the is the case with Trunk Club (unless I'm mistaken), which semi-invalidates your argument about doing Computer Interfaces when a human is curating and processing the information.
i agree with this article to about 85-95 percent. there are cases where the 'interface' as you describe it enhances and makes things better. lets take an example of what i mean. the new Chevy Caprice Police Vehicle being used by the Los Angles Police is a perfect example. it is loaded and littered with computer interfaces. But in this case these interfaces are very important to the officer and aid him or her to do their job better and faster. over the last three years the LAPD has used some of the tech in the caprice effectively (namely the ALPR [Automatic License Plate Reader] that has read and validated over 32 million license plates) while it is a automatic system it does have an interface for the officer to interact with. now for me, i do not need or want a complicated interface in my car. I am purist when it comes to driving, i need a speedometer, a rpm gauge, a fuel gauge (ok, so i would however take a sat nav , mainly to navigate places like edmonton and calgary without getting lost), i do not however need the over complicated touch screen stuff in my car. i do not need my car to be a 207bhp 140mph web browser and media center, i have 3 computers on my desk that do that job just fine. I want to enjoy the drive, not get frustrated trying to figure out the complex tech or have to go through a ten minute rigger to get in and get the car started. when it comes to things like fridges, and stoves, ect ... whom ever decided to put these computers in them and give them interfaces and make them 'internet' aware needs to give their heads a shake. i mean seriously, my fridge has one purpose, keep my food cold, and frozen when stuff is in the freezer. it is not ment to connect to the internet and surf the web. there is a balance to interfaces. And i think we just need to find that perfect center point.
Superb article.
Sandro M.
Interface is evil —
Jordan Stevens
So much brainpower is wasted on the interface, which does not solve the problem. Solving the problem solves the problem. I often see this with customers who are wowed by the UI, but with the same amount of time, and asking the right questions we could have automated the problem. Now, not only do they have to learn the interface, they have to interpret the data and then manually enter a solution. I can't tell you how many times we could have just solved the problem for them forever with the same amount of programming.
Paul Barrass
Nicely written artile, but not advancing the subject overly, considering that these are subjects discussed in Universities around the world over the past fifteen years or so. Trust, and the human perception of trust, is of course, at the root of the ability for us to mask the interface and make rational assumptions about what we (as interface designers) can use at any given time. This is social psychology as much, if not more than our ability to design an interface, as well as the complexity of the task. The use of a UI on a fridge for example is, without hard study and just from experience, a necessary step to a virtualised shopping experience where your fridge as a device monitors your preferences, habits and keeps itself stocked by ordering goods from local suppliers to be arranged at a time it know's is convenient to you, as we as users build trust in the ability of these devices and services to carry out their tasks. All things considered, we are moving toward a greater UI-less experience at a decent pace for non-complex interactions. The more complex the interaction however, the greater the need for a meaningful and well developed UI which almost universally captures the early elements of an application/services ruleset and allows feedback on such. Input masking, pre-formatting, etc. Due to the nature of the WIMP and more recently touch interfaces, these UI formats are only one logical step removed from the processing or capability of an application or service, and moving to far away toward a minimal UI is doomed to either failure, or a lack of power/flexibility. (Command and control systems will never be UI-less for example) Bearing that in mind, we choose a best fit approach that can map to many domains, and many underlying solutions/services to allow the interface to be re-used and to maximise the re-use of actual code and patterns across the entire UI spectrum. This has been known about and discussed in depth for almost thirty years now in effect. Having made a case for the UI and a fairly ubiquitous UI at that, I would say that where the interaction to or use of a system/service is minimal or trivial, then obviously the UI should be too, but that as triviality must also deal with the issue of trust, then I say go slow, and take no risks.
Tihomir Stoev
Nice article, to some of the people commented: yes we can adapt to the machines, but this is where we loose the battle with the time. The machine can do what told until power goes down, we humans not. Adapting my time to my phone is not the right thing to do. I adapt myself to the tools I use cos' I can not create the tools I need ONLY. You have to work with the environment to succeed, but not dream in it...that will suck you back in the world you need/want to change. Adaptation is key of the human intelligence and it brought us as a kind here, but adapting to our own creations(more and more innovative stuff) is like doing your mother, you won't get a son, neither a brother but both and that with the risk of getting genetic issues in long therm, and without the new data used in the recombination. I is cool to keep the stuff that works, but it is wrong to keep working in the same way we used to..that is just an anchor to the past of our experience as kind.
Philip Oakley
The problem isn't the computer, it's other people. Why is the UI with your manager so difficult? Or your bank, or your partner? We don't notice that these are such bad UIs and must be redesigned (managers ;-). It's familiarity that creates the usable UI. Consider that a modern 'safe' car/auto-mobile, is still just as dangerous in 'less developed' countries, where the familiarity is lacking (Smeed's Law). With time the most friendly UI gets to be the standard and everyone will assume it's just normal, and it's affordance will feel ideal. Apps are just as bad as searching for the right change.
Mike R
Down-right "scary"--to say the least. Extrapolate this "no UI" path, and humans will finally become "true" mind-numbed robots, with no need for sensory inputs at all--the computers do it all for us, and maybe even "control" us? Or rather, the people who control the computers control us... And what about other unintended consequences? Like when these wireless-only cars (i.e. the only way they can start is with their wireless key) won't run because of wireless interference from a nearby WAP that's gone haywire. It's already happened. I want control. Period.
Note that unlocking the car door is even simpler than described, happening when the key holder pulls on the handle. This basically removes the cognizant concept of unlocking from the equation - just let me do what I need to (open the door) and don't stand in the way. The design draws on the natural triggers from a person, interpreting them as another person would, rather than requiring an artificial, impersonal "interface" such as a key.
I'm not convinced NFC is a great payment solution, but your No UI scenario is about the dumbest thing I've ever seen from a security perspective. 1.A shopper enters a store. 2.Orders a sandwich. 3.Sits down and eats his sandwich. No PIN? No physical interaction with a card or paper/coin money? No signature? WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG WITH THAT IDEA?
Michael Almond
This reminds me of a basic design principle I learned way back in the "olden days" was/is a concept called "transparent design"...though it is not as radical as removing the UI altogether, it basically translates to the idea that good design should never distract from the task at hand or even be noticed (some believe). Thanks for the great article.
jonathan bowden
Thanks for opening up a new chapter of this conversation. I really hope this makes it to sxsw, or maybe i can stop by your office if i ever make it out to sf. thanks!
You are wrongly stating a "No UI" system as the future of human-device interaction. No system works at a "No UI"-level. You should rename your system "Natural UI" or "Intuitive UI". Opening the cars door when you are near by with the contact-less key for example needs the user to touch the door handle. It's a natural way of interactiong with a door. BTW: Less natural is the "sensor" to lock the car. If you don't belive look at children (or my wife!). They will be able to open the door, but they won't touch the "sensor" to lock the car, and they won't hold that "sensor" for closing the windows. Luss.
Scott A. Tovey
>>> If we eliminate the UI, we’re again left with only three, natural steps: 1 A shopper enters a store. 2 Orders a sandwich. 3 Sits down and eats his sandwich. >>> Where's the fourth step? You know, the one in which you verify that you were charged the correct amount. >>> @ Nate Clinton August 29, 2012 There are still a few auto features I wish existed that nobody seems to have created yet, like something to prevent the car battery from ever depleting to the point that it can't start the engine. (Left the headlights on? Car, just turn them off if the battery is near empty!) >>> I know what you mean. I parked in front of the apartment building and leaving the headlights on I carried a couple of bags upstairs. After putting those items away I went back down stairs to find that my headlights were off. At first, if figured that a switch or something went bad. Then I started the vehicle and the lights came back on. Wha-a-a???? It turns out that after 2 minutes, my 1999 Dodge Caravan automatically turns off the headlights. So apparently Nate, it's the vehicle you're driving. So, on your next automobile purchase, ask the sales person if the vehicle has an auto shut off feature for the headlights. That alone will resolve the "left the headlights on last night" issues. Another feature of this caravan is that the starter will not engage if the engine is already running. Typically, if you turn the key to start while the engine is running, the starter engages the fly wheel and makes a horrible grinding noise. I found that feature out by accident as well. It's odd that the feature is not mentioned in the owners manual, but then, as long as it works as intended, it need not be. Scott A. Tovey
Let's start a thread on "I am tired of giving Mark Zuckerberg the power to resell my likes and dislikes by having to log into Facebook just to post a comment!!!!".
While interfaces may be improved, I do not want any device of mine automatically doing anything. Let's look at your first two scenarios. 1) You have parked your car and are leaving the parking lot when a friend intending to leave the lot sees you and calls out. As you walk to your friend's car, you pass your car which immediately unlocks itself. Shortly after, a thief enters your car. 2) You have just payed for your take-out and are waiting by the register for your food, Meanwhile, you have unknowingly paid for the next 5 people's lunches. I'll take an unwieldy UI over an intuitive computer any day.
At McDonald's, I simply swipe my credit card to pay. It doesn't need a PIN, or signature, or anything, but at least I do get to confirm that I did want to pay the amount on the display. And I don't need to pre-register, like I would with the Starbucks/Square system. I have two late model Chevrolet cars. They turn off the headlights; I'm pretty sure it's impossible to leave them on overnight. On the other hand, my old Subaru just turned off the headlights with the ignition, even simpler! Also, the Chevrolets do fix the starter-grinding issue. They use the same UI as a traditional car - a key that you turn to "start" and then release. In old cars Start was a simple electrical connection to the electric starter motor, and you were supposed to let go just as you heard the engine kick in. In new Chevy's is seems to be that holding the key in start for a moment just sends a command electronically to start the engine as needed. And on a cold morning, where it take an extra couple seconds for ignition, it will keep running the starter even after you release the key. I suspect that with this set-up it's mostly a software upgrade to allow remote-start from a smartphone via OnStar, and so I suspect it's more of a commercial reason why only one 2 Chevy's, the one with a higher trim package, has it--it may just be flipping a bit but they still want to sell a $300 "connectivity package"! Finally, I like that both these cars have simple green-on-black digital displays, and actual moving needles for the speedometer. It seems like just the right balance of digital and analog UI.
This is so spot on. When I walk up to my computer, it should just know from my slumping shoulders and pained look that I want it to format my hard drive and reinstall the operating system, and it should just do it. I understand what you're saying, but we are in the middle of many transitions that will lead us there. But automatically paying for my sandwich without me providing some security so that I'm not paying for everyone's sandwich -- that requires input from me, and therefore an interface. Also, credit cards suck because they DON'T require any security.
Dominic Amann
I run into people all the time who seem to crave a complex interface. I designed a page to help people search for church services in a large metropolitan area with hundreds of churches. It would open with a page showing meetings in the user's geographical area starting from now, and sorted by time (within that area). It had pull downs to narrow down the search by type of church, and one to change area. Within 3 months of deploying this interface - while web data showed clearly that more people were using it, and no actual complaints having been posted, the service was "revamped" introducing more than half a dozen new buttons that ended up swarfing the auto-created list, and creating a dogs breakfast of a web page. And interestingly enough - there were no use cases that the new design solved that could not be solved with the abreviated interface - with fewer clicks. Along these lines - when Google was initially testing their search service, focus groups had people sitting waiting for the page to load (after it had completely loaded) because they were expecting more "stuff" on their screen. Google actually had to add a footer to make people comfortable with the minimalism.
Dan Sutton
This article is quite brilliant. I roared with laughter reading it. Now I'm sitting here thinking about where interfaces crop up and where they can be done away with...
I'm always hesitant of over-convenience with technology as we have learn from M$ products where convenience usually comes with a cost -- sacrifice of security. With the car auto unlock, how secure is it? Can someone nearby eavesdrop on the signal while opening your card and steal the code to unlock the car themselves? Do they even need that, or can they just walk past you in the mall and steal what's needed from your key directly? I thought I heard something recently about the wireless key entry being cracked. I always assumed they would use something secure like true encryption (and sequence checking) that would make it far less vulnerable, but they could just be using security through obscurity (which isn't much security) to authenticate. Also, when does it re-lock? If you walk by it to get to your mailbox, does it unlock and stay that way when you head back inside your house? Does it auto lock in a few minutes? What if you didn't want it to re-lock? You referenced using the app as the complicated UI, but I always had the impression the app was more like a fallback (in-case you forget your keys or locked them inside the car).. if I had the choice, just using the keys would be faster than the app I think (you would have to dig one of the two things out of your pocket/purse). Some of the same "prediction control" issues apply to the TV as the car unlock.. what if I went into the room with the TV to grab something off the shelf and the TV turns on, then 10 seconds later I leave. I guess it turns off? What if there was a baby sleeping near by that "just" got to sleep, Oh Sh*t!!! It woke the baby up!! What if someone, a guest, is watching something and I walk by the TV.. does it change to my preferred station and interrupt my guest's viewing? What if the automatic radio is next to the automatic TV, which turns on and when? I have a strong annoyance with intrusive computers/software/devices that try to "be smarter than the human" and often get it wrong. My cell phone is an example.. If I purposely turn it OFF, and then if I plug it in to charge the stupid thing [eventually] turns itself back ON! I mean if I wanted it on, _I_ would turn it back on. What does being on has to do with charging (or charging being complete)?! So I have to turn it OFF again! Also, even in cases where there is a simple (or automatic interface), there should always be a direct interface when things go wrong (without needing to pay some pricy technician that has exclusive access to special software). This tends to be the problem with dumbed down interfaces (like Windows and the old MacOS).. when pushing the simple button doesn't work, there often isn't much of an alternative to do that particular task manually (like a powerful CLI), or even an error log for the application to help figure out what it really wrong. So with devices that have no [direct] UI this would likely be even more problematic since those kinds of things are even more of an after thought. ]] “If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost.” This sounds like google.. track everything and provide better, smarter, services for the user. It also sounds like all the ad marketing sites goal (just to market better to you). Maybe we should just let them have all the information we can about us so that everything (including UI's) are simpler/automatic. We don't need privacy. And nobody will ever sell/leak that information, or allow it to be cracked and stolen. It is a nice idea in a utopian world, but in the real world it has very major drawbacks when taken too far. While much of what I said sounds like a slam against the article writer, it should be taken more as a warning to anyone to seriously consider the potential consequences to over-convenience (on a per-case basis) and not just blindly accepting it as better. And certainly don't make "No UI" the end goal just for its own sake. This is not to say all automated interfaces are bad (I mean most decent spam filters auto learn much based on past feedback), but these systems should be taken as hints to real interfaces to perform automatic actions (if _user_ configured to do so, and under what conditions).
Thumbs up for the article. Though when there is less UI, there is less control. Some want to more of it, some less. For examples, Iphone vs. Android, Windows vs Linux, etc.
Roberto Marsicano
The time of interfaces was the time when "every computer was an island". Now, systems and machines are connected, often they are always on, so they can "talk" each other without a human interaction.
Amen! I've been doing battles (actually its now an all out war) convincing the legal publishing industry that we're actually aggravating the problem by trying fix it by coming up with new "products" (more content). So I'm quietly pushing to eliminating seemingly necessary but actually completely redundant interfaces like a searchbox or next article button. ...I'm waiting for them to either fire me and declare me insane or get with the program.
steve macalpine
The new UI .. All you have to do is ask...
So let's see, the no-interface is enabled by machine-learning so that it will understand what I want and just do it. Of course! There is indeed no interface, because you don't interact with the computer. Why didn't we just do DOS that way???? Back in the real world.... >> You’re a unique, amazingly complex individual, filled with your own interests and desires. >> >> So building a great UI for you is hard. It takes open-minded leaders, great research, deep insights...let’s >> put it this way: it’s challenging. This is the most insincere and simultaneously self-serving, cloying shlock I've read for a long time.
Paul Prescod said it, if you want to work without it, go for it. In many instances the unwanted steps are wanted by a user, required in fact. Go figure, but that is the situation. I see too much hyperbole and handwaves here. OK, time to move on. Seen this before. No design is great design... yes, I know....
Andrea Rinaldi
Great post, I work in the ERP software domain and the interface design is always an issue. You spent hours if not days in adding hints, feedback messages, positioning the controls over the forms and still the users complain about the program is not working as they expect. A comment about the "keyless car": I think that Renault car manufacturer introduced it before Mercedes, I had it on my Scenic in 1998 and it was really outstanding.
I think better UI's are needed, not removed. However this article equates a screen and typing as a UI. UI means a User Interface. Right now a phone would take too much power to be able to operate continuously, but say you walk up to the counter, open your phone, say "I'll have the roast beef sandwich and medium coke". The phone verifies your identity from your voice, VR converts your request into text, the GPS in the phone identifies where you are, the prices of the products ordered are looked up and the amount is automatically calculated and transfered from your account to the store's, you pick up your order, sit down and eat. Now THAT's a great UI! Of course a bad cold or a slight accent will kill it at this time. But almost all the tech needed already exists.
I think you have confused "interface" with "graphical user interface". The definition includes "a common boundary or interconnection between systems, equipment, concepts, or human beings." Much of what you describe is actually still an interface, just not a traditional GUI. How is the TV in your example going to know which channel I want to watch? If it guesses incorrectly, how do I tell it I want a different channel? No matter how you pursue the solution (dial on the TV, buttons on a remote, voice command, Kinect gestures including hand-waving, head tilts and gaze adjustments, etc), they will all be interfaces. When I walk into your sandwich shop, how do I know how much you are going to charge me for my sandwich? How do I know that someone else hasn't hidden another gizmo under the counter that will deduct $100 from my account at the same time your store is charging me for my $5.99 sandwich? I want to approve deductions from my account, not just hope that they will be right and attempt to clean up the mess at the end of the month. Preventions and cures, ounces and pounds ... you get the idea. Start thinking like a criminal about how to exploit these automations and you will start finding the problems that need to be solved, usually with an interface, even if not a "graphical" interface.
Cat Le-Huy
I like the article and don't disagree with the general thrust of it. Interfaces don't necessarily make your product better. However - academically - I think you're stretching the analogy and the steps required to suit your argument. Plus if you remove the interactions out of it and just sat down and ate your sandwich - you've technically just committed theft :)
I wholeheartedly agree with this article, in fact I was unaware of that interface in the speedometer or on the fridge. However, I do think the whole step comparison isn't exactly accurate, the senario with the woman and the car, the only steps listed are: "A driver approaches her car. The car doors unlock. She opens her car door." Whereas the other option seems to be gravely overstated, such as trying to figure out or remember how to use the app that unlocks the car -- we could also say she has to figure out how to use the buttons on her car key. Or "make a best guess" about which key button unlocked the doors and try it out. Step 3 references turning on the phone, while this would be a step, if your phone isn't already on at a time in which you need it (for unlocking a car with that feature), chances are you didn't buy a car with that feature -- at least in the places I frequently travel. The only real steps that aren't the same are 6, 7, and 8: "Swipes through a sea of icons, trying to find the app. Taps the desired app icon. Waits for the app to load." But for the average woman, it takes longer to find the keys in her purse/bag than all three of these steps combined. I just feel like this slim choice of 3 steps creates a world in which keys do magical things, allowing the in-between steps to get looked over. And this is all, of course, besides the fact of what those specific smartphone keys were created for. Thanks for sharing this bit of information!
Pritam Pebam
I agree to your gist but I feel you've deliberately tried to exaggerate the number of steps between traditional interactions and new age interactions!
It seems that a lot of people are picking specifically on the use cases given in this article. While they do seem a bit contrived and stretched quite a bit to fit the authors point, there is still a legitimate point underlying the article. 1. Don't insert an unnecessary interface in where it doesn't enhance the user experience. 2. Simplify things as much as possible for the user to get their task done when possible. 3. Don't oversimplify. (This is more something that is brought up in the comments.)
One thing to remember when refering to smartphones - they are phones. We have to remember that we might actually be talking on it...
Some of this argument has merit, but a poor is made job backing it up. Some interfaces complicate interactions rather than simplify them. An interaction may not need a screen. These are valid points. There is a hint of confirmation bias that shows through in this presentation. In his Google wallet example, his UI alternative example neglects paying, reducing one step and making the non-ui seem less more complicated than it is. I also feel that his chart of Gmail is not that relevant to his argument. Even though Gmail rarely adds new delightful features, the stuff you liked when you first discovered the app still keep you coming back because it's still the most intuitive web based mail service. Doesn't matter if your delight keeps increasing because it's still better than the alternatives. Plus, no acceptable alternative is offered to the email. How could one make an email service using these principals? Comparing an email service with the operation of a car is not exactly the same. That's like comparing the operation of a Tamagotchi pet to that of a bull-dozer. Completely different. The bit about the "adapts to you" is a bit of a bait and switch. While the bit about services adapting to you in order to grant greater value is true, but he implies that this is not the case with an interface. Netflix. Amazon. Need I say more? This article could be could be great, but poor evidence is made to back up the principals presented. Rewrite it correctly comparing apples to apples please so we can have a real discussion on your points.
Vince Angeloni
Great job on the article, it makes a lot of sense. One of my main interests is the automotive sector. The advancements over the years in how the user can view information and interact with it has gone a little too far as mentioned in your article. Have you seen BMW's iDrive system? It's a nightmare. The only place for a UI in a vehicle is relaying important information to the driver and not requiring interaction. i.e. Battery charge life/range for hybrids and electrics, fuel mileage/consumption, temperatures, radio info, etc. What was once a one button process for say changing your traction control settings is now in a nested UI, on a screen accessed via touch or multi-function knob. It's not right. There should be no user interaction for important things in a vehicle via a screen. On to my next point about driver entry into the vehicle. Key fobs are smarter now. For the most part I don't think you will ever see manufacturers adapting to the using your phone to enter your vehicle approach. Aftermarket companies do have it, but it is stupid. The two or three button fob won't go away anytime soon. It's primitive yes but easy to use and convenient. Push button, car beeps twice, unlocked. If you don't enter the vehicle MOST newer vehicles will auto-lock after say a minute. What you didn't know is these actions CAN be customized through your dealer. The integrated security systems and door locking systems can be set to unlock both doors on one press instead of two etc. In the end manufacturers of not just automobiles but household appliances or televisions are looking to extend their reach to 'simplifying' things. It is a gimmick, because as we know, it does not.
Very thought provoking. I agree with you on the surface, but fundamentally disagree with most of the article. I think the big gap for me is how seamlessly this article transitions from UI associated with computers, and UI associated with products. I think there is a fundamental difference between using a computer to interact with content as opposed to interacting with an interface to utilize a product. I think computers require some-level of UI in order to be usable. Even with the integration of voice-control, there are many instances where controlling a computer through voice or natural movement isn't ideal. With regards to product design; I sort-of agree that invisible UI's are better - but I still think it focuses on the wrong thing. I think we should focus on which interactions should be invisible vs which should have a visible UI. We should also keep in mind that users like intuitive interfaces & being guided through complex processes. Not everything can be simple enough to require only natural input from the user. If we were to take the car example to the next level - where we remove the entire user interface (i.e. pedals, steering wheel, etc) what will the trade-off be? Will we simply be passengers in our cars? Will we trust our cars to deliver us safely to our destinations? I mean, we've already made the gear-shift invisible in the sense that we now have cars that take care of the shifting automatically - but many users still opt for a manual transmission. I wonder if invisible interfaces are really best?
James Richardson
I think in a rush to innovate, the auto industry has gotten it precisely wrong. Instead of focusing on natural ways to use voice or systems that learn about how you drive, they have continued to make the modern automobile more complicated. I recently purchased an SUV for my growing family and purposely eliminated the Ford Explorer from consideration because the damn UI was insufferably complex and inseparable from basic functions attached to driving. Do I really need 3 different UI's to select a radio station? No, I don't. I agree whole heartedly with the premise of this article and think it should suffuse all of our design decisions. In brief, how the hell do we as designers get out of the way of our customers?
Donnie Torok
I would like an interface-free wife that will make me a turkey club sandwich exactly when I think about it. :-)
Stan K
Perhaps one might even apply some of the get-rid-of-goofy-interface thoughtfulness to their own website, instead of having a silly horizontal "scroll" that forces me to figure out that I have to click on the right edge of the page to view the next article. (see
Carlos H
The fingerprint activated car door is actually a terrible design solution because it created an incentive for robbers to cut their victim's fingers off:
Nice article. I think the fear of the designers to handle the hate that gets triggered when something fails make them think of so many interfaces!. On reading comments above I also sense that there is large lack of trust that people have on these devices to do things on own. Looks like you have to make devices confirm things with the 'boss who is asking it do' before doing the next steps that are not generally done when performed by humans!. Trust brings in more tolerance to handle failure and less interfaces to do thins!.
I think this article is excellent. The examples could use some work. But the main points of the article are clear, and they are becoming increasingly relevant. The points I took out are: 1- Make the user interface intuitive and human-oriented, and attempt to hide the aspects that are most emblematic of a computer. 2- Minimize the number of steps in the use cases for any product or system. 3- Use Bayesian statistics, time series and user feedback to guess the user's preferences and eliminate steps. I ranked them in priority. I think most shops focus on 1 if they are making a good user interface. Very few are truly attempting to make the use cases simple, like Google. I find voice commands in cars to be so convoluted. It takes way too many steps to put on music. And I think the hardest strategy is to use statistics to judge preferences and eliminate steps. For example, if have been shutting off my AC every single night before I go to sleep for the past several months, it should do that for me. This is the sort of technological improvements to UX that should appear in the future.
Peter Stahl
Automobiles are already full of No UI features, and have been for years. Cars of the 1950s had controls called "choke" and "throttle"; these have been automated and are now invisible. Safety features such as air bags and anti-lock brakes have No UI; they work when the car decides they're needed. Many cars today still have a "clutch" and "gear shifter", but these are archaic and unnecessary. Similarly, communications features which used to be very difficult and laborious are trending toward No UI. For example, configuring a telephone modem or local-area network interface once involved prying open the computer, inserting a circuit board, setting dip-switches, and installing and configuring software. Today nobody would put up with that; you simply plug in a wire and go. Wireless communication is approaching No UI as well. However, all of these are human-to-machine or machine-to-machine interactions. Human-to-human interactions, such as retail sales or service, are obviously much trickier. People naturally feel uncomfortable with the constricted channels imposed on device-intermediated relationships. There's a distracting, background thought process that sucks attention away from the task at hand: "What can I do now? How can I communicate? Who am I interacting with? What was meant by that?" It's very much like trying being in an unfamiliar culture -- you have to think just as much about how you express yourself (and whether that's okay) as what you're expressing. It's hard. No UI can work for human-to-human interactions with well-understood, universal conventions. That will allow people to focus on content, not mechanics. Wider pipes (e.g., video) will also help. Ultimately, No UI for h-h means the device seems to disappear and people really communicate meaningfully.
Good bit of information in this article... But I am skeptical about the maturity of the tone used. Companies are aware when they "slap" interfaces on different services... it's just another step for incremental change. It is required for the industry to progress, to generate income for funds to accumulate in order to reach a 'no UI' era. It is evident with 'Google Now'...a service that is intuitive non intrusive and intelligent. Maybe a small but significant step towards being more natural.
So much mind power is lost on the interface, which does not fix the issue. Fixing the issue resolves the issue. I often see this with clients who are impressed by the UI, but with the same period, and asking the right concerns we could have computerized the issue. Now, not only do they have to understand the interface, they have to understand the information and then personally get into a remedy. I can't tell you how many periods we could have just reduced the issue for them permanently with the same quantity of development.
Giannicola Bonora
Behind any UI at a certain stage there is a CLI. I really much agree with what Johnatan said on 3 sept but if there is anything like a "No UI" there is probably massive CLI behind it. If you need do to a complex task once GUI rocks. if you need to do any task 1.000 times GUI s**ks. An UI is friendly for me as long as someone else wants it to be friendly. I don't want to forget how much the friendliness of a UI costs me in terms of freedom and control and most of all in terms of knowledge.
John Beckwith
Love the idea and I feel we are definitely getting to a place, technologically, where we can achieve these types of interface-less products/experiences that become a seamless part of our everyday lives. The problem now becomes how to sell this to a) users/customers who are used to some type of (usually inconvenient) interface, and b) the engineers/developers who are tasked with building this 'magic' in to products and services. For end users, feedback and cues become very important in a ui-less experience, especially when it comes to anything involving security and safety. You could say the same for engineers who are used to seeing the 'working parts' of what they build. My concern is how do we create a ui-less experience that really works for everybody, all of the time? What happens when they fail?
Johan Tiberg
Good ideas, but why would you ever consider watching TV, as you do in your article, that’s the most nonsensical dummying down interface of them all for humans. My family hasn’t had TV for 8 years, and has seen lots of benefits. ... and so there is the thing about the system (that you are not in control of) learns about your personality and so on. That’s a scary surveillance thing that makes me shrill. I have worked with Computers since 1982, mostly programming, and I love it, and I think those with these ideas presented in the article have to deeply rethink the outcome in the near future of these things, the so called "unintended consequences"
Kevin P.
I'm sorry, but this article confused me right off the bat. You listed commands that were introduced in the 1990s -- atmadm and chkntfs -- and then you went on to write "then, in 1984." I don't mean to nitpick, but writing like this causes me to go back and reread multiple times while wondering if there's something wrong with me for not comprehending.
Dys Sahagun
User interfaces -- some of them, instead of making our lives easier, complicate it even more. But everything has an interface -- digital or not. And the less gap we have between the steps in the interface and our goal, the better. The interface should put us, humans, in control of systems and not the other way around. My refrigerator is better with the ice maker because I didn't have to do it myself. But it did not when they slapped an interface to it that could tweet itself about whatever it is "feeling". Put interfaces on things which need interfaces.
What do we think about iOS 6's Passbook app? While poorly explained to users, it appears to be a zero-interface app. If you have a loyalty or payment card for a store, and you are in the store, the card pops up in your lock screen, and you can display it with one swipe (no passcode). It's actually less work than digging through your wallet to find the card itself. If it works. And yeah, you do have to set it up first for each merchant, on their apps or sites.
Jonathan Fisher
No interface _is_ the best interface. But Apple thinks that No interface is the _only_ interface, or _their_ interface is the only interface. This is terribly incorrect and is what is known as "Designer Arrogance." The Mercedes Benz still has a keyhole. It also has a pushbutton remote. You need "no interface" but you also need a general interface.
You propose getting rid of inter-face by creating adaptive systems, by creating user-agents (UA) which model and adopt the agency of their users. I am 100% on board. But a UA can only model and try to become. To get there a UA must observer, and that requires interaction. I think you state that difficulty- the fact taht we have our own agencies and interests apart from one anothers, that use cases are an emergent and individual property of usage- eloquently: "You’re a unique, amazingly complex individual, filled with your own interests and desires. \ So building a great UI for you is hard. It takes open-minded leaders, great research, deep insights...let’s put it this way: it’s challenging." You've failed to issue the proper challenge. UI is not the problem. The examples you cite (Trunk, Nest) both have UI, but it's a UI, it's a user-agent, that looks at it's user, looks at the behaviors the user is enacting for themselves, and attempts to become a better user-agent that more closely tailors to the agency the user has already demonstrated with the UI. So UI is necessary, is fundamental, and the competency of the UI, what it makes possible, is the furthest extent of agency that the system can ever model, simulate, and adapt to: our systems will never become better representative of us than what we can represent to them. You recognize the truth that we all have vastly different personas, that we want things to operate differently. And you propose that systems, user-agents, need to assume the agency demonstrated by their users, and need to optimize to the point where they strip away the need for the user to be the one continually generating agency: a good user-agent is definitionally one that can assume the agency of it's user, QED. Best case is no-interface, agreed. But getting their is the challenge. And inter-face is the enemy here too. Inter-face is a facade built upon domain objects, abstraction and gloss for the user, crafted out of programming primitives representative of the underlying capabilities and functionalities of a programming system. My definition is 100% in opposition to yours, but I claim the same moniker: inter-face, between-faces, is the enemy: it's shadows on the wall of the cave thrown up by programmers to try to be friendly. What is necessary and vital is generalized systems that expose the raw, small pieces, in their loosely-connected state, and can represent the newly grafted on agencies our systems have modeled from our behavior. We need Naked Objects, we need introspectable systems, we need more, vastly more UI, but UI in the sense of debuggers and BPM that show us what our true systems are, and not more rubbish UX that try to build "a great UI," because "building a great UI for you" is by definition impossible: you are too special, too unique, too unlike the other users. The best conventional in-between inter-face can strive for, UX can hope for, non-generalized applications can strive for is "a great UI for their broad user-base." Certainly we can build user-agents which can begin to get better, divine out and tailor to the specific niches of their user base, but that will advance at a rate which is a function of how much expressiveness a UI makes possible. Adaption is simulated agency, and to become an aware representative agent, interaction must be required. I propose stripping out the inter-faces that tier programmer interactions far below user inter-actions, in hopes that we gain richer more competent panoramas of interaction: we ought elect to make what interaction is necessary direct, and not filtered through the representation of inter-face. Scrawled up further shit on G+ too. Will try to attend some of the recommended Branch stuff. Thanks for reading, sorry it ballooned to 600 words.
Awesome article Golden Khrisna ! Just want to ask your opinion, how do you think "No UI" will be implemented in e-commerce and mobile commerce ? Thanks.
Ranjeet Kumar Tayi
No Interface is the Best Interface... I will not agree on this. The point i feel is that there is nothing without interface in the planet.
Paul Anthony Webb
I feel as though I've just been enlightened. I was actually inspired to alter a couple plans to a hardware project of mine. Looking through the comments, it seems as though some people have missed the point of this article. The fact is, *everything* has an interface in this world. The point of this article is to exploit the ridiculousness of adding more steps to do already simple things, and finding ways to possibly lessen the already few steps it takes to do something (such as the proximity-based key-less entry). Anyhoo, very good article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Bill Zoelle
I disagree wholeheartedly with the title statement as an overarching truth. (and I do undertand that it served its purpose of baiting me - so, thanks for that) To design human and machine interactions with a singular purpose of eliminating the amount of interactions people have with a machine or system, only serves those users that want the interactions limited. Task focused interactions are different from entertainment focused interactions. If the interface gets in the way of a task, then it is an opportunity for improvement. Entertainment focused interactions are perceived as superfluous by those who are not entertained by them. Owning a refrigerator that allows you to use Twitter on the door is not about solving the problem of insufficient access to Twitter. It is about entertainment and ego. You can fail at utility if you succeed at entertainment, but you can't fail at both without creating memorable negative user interactions. Google's Self-Driving Car: A task focused, no UI solution to the problem of car driving. Lotus Elise: Entertainment focused UI for people who love driving and all the traditional interfaces that go along with it. Nest is actually interacted with MORE than most other thermostats. Desktop login, native apps, and emails all serve to extend the reach of the interface. I'm not sure how Nest fits into the argument for no user interface solutions. Nest front-loads the frequency of user interactions with the future return of less frequent interactions. Nest's ability to "learn" transforms the interface into an anthropomorphic device. I would not be surprised if people named their thermostats. Even in your blog post you mention what Nest "wants". If a designer creates an interface that is beautiful, simple, and anthropomorphic wouldn't the logical conclusion be that the designer wants to encourage interaction? The interaction is not one-sided which further incentivises engagement. The little leaf icon practically clicker trains the user by handing out savings as a treat. If Nest were truly a no UI solution, one scenario could be that it would have sensors in rooms that could determine your body temperature and the deviation from your selected ideal. It would then adjust the room temp to suit your comfort. Removing annoyances is only one role that technology plays in our lives. To limit it to simply that one task is depressing to me. Technology is capable of so much more. User interfaces are also brand touch points. I won't go into that now, but if you are interested I write about it here:
While overall this is good, there's another set of issues here, which have to do with comprehension and risks. For a "just works" interface to be valid, it cannot be too surprising -- no hidden costs, no hidden risks. Customers will not be happy if the price of a sandwich jumps by an order of magnitude and they did not know about it. If this happens, they will find out, but it is when and how they find out that matters. Also, when a technology does not work right, the user is going to need to address the issue(s) which prevent the technology from working properly. How does this happen? The systems being replaced here do not get this kind of thing right, all too often, but that does not mean we should neglect these aspects. Other people here have made related comments.
Jack Nycz
I full-heartedly agree with you on almost everything here - the fridge with the touchscreen is an abomination above all. The one thing is that on almost all of the phone examples there's a 'turn phone on' step. Who in the world carries there phone around off?
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Jonathan Dahan
I've been building an umbrella stand that lights up if its going to rain in the next 16 hours wherever you are. Contact if you are interested in working on it. I already got it working with an LED+arduino+wifi chip that fits inside a handle I build, just need a good designer to turn it into a nice stand.
Amazing article Golden, I think as far as developers/designers/engineers is that we have to consider how to impact our customers successfully with proper interface. I think something with this idea is that we are limited to the hardware that surrounds it. Forward thinking technology is proof of that.
You're really pushing it with your list of actions that a user has to take. Who doesn't have their phone on? That said, I've used a Suica card (tap to pay) in Tokyo. It was very handy, easily understood, reasonably secure, and very popular. You can get a stand-alone card, or some cell phone manufacturers incorporated it into their phones directly. I don't know why Americans need their name and photo appearing just to buy a coffee (Jack Dorsey). That just sounds like complex nonsense that's meant to get MBAs salivating over how they can better "increase customer retention and gain mindshare" (i.e. a sociopath's guess at how to simulate human clerks learning a regular customer's preferences).
Car unlocking presents security issue, like most of the other stuff, but this is most obvious. Someone just stands near your car and as soon as you come close - open the door and steal a bag you left on the seat.
Nick Harris
Jef Raskin's Canon Cat word processor would wake from sleep when you hit a key and not forget to display that key in your document, essentially making its operation the same as a typewriter. Little things like this really accumulate to build a fond relationship with a device, whereas tiny seemingly inconsequential annoyances that you are barely consciously aware of whilst you are focusing on work sap your positive disposition towards the tool over time. It would be interesting to see what you thought a zero UI for computing would be like. Speech recognition? Some variant of Alan Kay's GRaIL? The non-intrusive when not in use smart Desk in 'The Island'? I can't see how to automate something to achieve the simplicity of an entirely passive contextual proximity when computing requires so much specificity due to its inherent versatility. The plurality of contexts seems to invalidate your approach being applied in the area that would most benefit from greater simplification.
David Canela
Good stuff, but I think it's important not to forget that reducing the number of steps it takes for a user to perform a task shouldn't be the only goal, and does not by itself make a good interface. Leave the user with a modicum of control, don't trigger too much stuff automatically. The more the system tries to anticipate what the user wants to do, the larger the risk it will misinterpret and actually cause more work for the user. Similarly, all those systems that learn about you are nice and convenient...until the day you feel pigeonholed and you can't do/get what you actually want because the system thinks it knows you so well (e.g. Google's personalised search results).
Nick Harris
I've had a chance to give a bit more thought to what a "zero UI" might be like for computing. First of all the Mercedes hasn't really got a "zero UI" as it has both the affordance of a door handle and a thumb sensor. A "zero UI" solution would involve sliding or gull-wing doors that opened when you approached with the key in your pocket, closing only when you took the car out of 'Park'. Depressing the accelerator or brake pedal would be the cue to gradually remove the automatic handbrake using the electric motor for stop-go travel at low speeds (i.e. the "Urban cycle") with the option to engage the diesel engine when driving at speeds over 45 mph (should it be equipped with Hybrid technology for extended range). You wouldn't be able to lock the keys in the car because there is no way to manually close the doors. The only snag is that this "zero UI" is unavoidably indiscrimate: all doors of the vehicle will open as you enter or leave it which may not suit your passengers. One possible workaround is for everyone to have their own key, but only some of them have the authority to open the driver's side door and start the vehicle. This suggests a practical application of these keys for general wireless proof of identity. One key for your vehicle, house, safe deposit box, ATM, restaurant and supermarket payment - with optional biometric proof being taken by a separate device when you confirm payment so that a criminal would be exposed attempting to use a dismembered thumb to pay for groceries by the supermarket cashier, there wouldn't be a biometric scanner on your key, your car's dashboard, or the entrance to your dwelling as these contexts lack the civilising influence of oversight by responsible staff and public witnesses that would raise an alert. Computing can then be thought of as a set of private and public terminals the extent of your access would be determined by your proximity and the detailed authority broadcast by your wireless key. A natural language conversational dialogue based upon speech recognition, lip-reading or even international sign-language for deaf users would eliminate the "Siri" or "Computer!" prefix as a Kinect style depth perception camera and high resolution head and eye tracking would confirm that this particular display strip / panel / surface / projection was being specifically asked a question. Issues of privacy and articulate interactivity would prevent the demise of tactile gesture enabled personal tablet computers, although the tablet could also project a grid of "invisible" lasers onto your lips to be read by its high speed front facing camera so that you could whisper dictation to your tablet and not have the encroachment of a virtual keyboard on what is necessarily already compact screen real estate. Unfortunately, I still see no way to avoid interfaces altogether as there will always be a need for tactile direct manipulation when composing multimedia as any verbal / gestural alternative is just too imprecise.
1) I agree with you. But every technology has its own advantages and drawbacks 2) I would say that minimal UI is as good as No UI. 3) If something (here it is UI) has some drawbacks, you don not need to completely throw it out (throw out UI and say No UI). Instead you can do one of the following: (i) stick to it and bear its drawbacks (tradeoff for the advantages compared to drawbacks) (ii) you could try to minimize the drawbacks 4) you cannot summarily reject UI as a design solution and say "No UI". 5) No UI is a great concept, but until sufficient research is done and solid products are developed and this becomes mature, we have to stick to what we have. 6) Personal computers in 1980 through 2007 were great but were not "personal" enough (compared to smartphones). But that does not mean computers are stupid. We had to stick to PCs until smartphones are mature enough as a technology.
But still, I agree very much with you about the "No UI" design approach. Best example I have experienced is the ATM machine. Many a time, inside the ATM, people use to ask me where to insert the card, how to draw money, etc. Myself, when I was first using a touch screen ATM, i did not know where to touch, how to use, completely confused. The computer-like UI (icons, buttons, menus, etc) are only suitable for computer literates, not for the common man. Though I am not a product designer by profession, I am greatly interested in design. This article has a deep impression on my approach to design things. Thanks for the article.
Michael Tutty (@mtutty)
Focusing on the amount of UI doesn't seem to apply as readily to web apps as it does to interactions with the internet of things. I have often considered what makes bad software vs good, and have to come to evaluate in terms of who serves who. If the user spends their time satisfying the system's requirements in order to get their desired outcome, then they are serving the process/system. It should be the other way around. I've found that many of the services/apps/sites I enjoy and derive value from serve me - that is, they do a lot of work relative to the amount I put in. I would love to see some more tangible examples of good and bad from your point of view, in the context of web applications, especially those that will be used often by a specific set of users (e.g., bug tracking, collaboration, email, chat).
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Weiser already pointed out the issue of that of Simplicity vs Control. You can't have both. All the examples of simplicity you mention also sacrifice the user's control over the situation.
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Anthony Hildoer
Reading this article made me feel like the first time I saw a trailer for the game Portal. Its a good thing.
you are wrong about google wallet. the workflow for me is: - take out the phone out of pocket - bring it close to the credit card processor to activate NFC - enter my passcode (for security) thats it. 3 steps. its faster than paying with credit card even if you don't have to sign.
John Mark Sombreplaza
I response to "numan".. even me don;t know google wallet that does it works like that.. seems interface comes out, then its better to have that than you wont it must lead more to Bullfighting in Spain than no interface
Interface is important "I response to "numan".. even me don;t know google wallet that does it works like that.. seems interface comes out, then its better to have that than you wont it must lead more to Bullfighting in Spain than no interface"
Elmo Vanaria
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jim wilt
So, I've played with ideas around using more "context" in the user experience (, however, "No UI" completes this thinking. Quite a transformational movement!

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