October 7, 2017

User experience as we know it, just died

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Tomorrow’s user experience design will let go of ‘buttons’

Every serious conversation about quantum physics has a tendency to melt your brain. It doesn’t make sense, and yet it is. So in a session with Jonathan Josephson of Quantum Interface he started looking at the influence of quantum field theory on user experience design, I knew I could be in for a rollercoaster ride (OK, I’m a nerd, sue me 😃).

Jumping straight to the end of the story, the workshop's message was that we should forget everything we know about today's user interfaces.

Ever since the beginning, user experience specialists have modeled digital interfaces on an industrial age paradigm. If you wanted a machine to do something, you had to press a button. This could be a physical button, a Siri command or a wave of the hand. But metaphorically, it was always “a button”.

Using this new paradigm, these buttons disappear. By installing a wide variety of sensors around us, our machines monitor our every move, micro-expression, heartbeat, temperature, pupil dilation. And just to be clear, our sunglasses, jewellery and clothes can all be machines.

Instead of traditional ‘button’ based user experience design, this allows the development of probabilistic models that predict our intentions at the speed of our brain. In other words, the machines watch us and calculate the probability that we want to open a door, open a file or are in the mood for ice-cream. Once the probability is high enough, they automatically provide us with the things we desire. No commands. No instructions. No buttons. Only intent.

This can happen over short distances, but also across larger ones. Even at the other side of the planet. After all, if you think about vectors in a quantised field, space is a very relative concept. All that matters is the expression of intent/probability.

If this sounds like science fiction, it partly is. The next user experience technology is available today and all major players are working on it. But it does require 5G, a ton of sensors (IoT anyone?), more advanced AI and – as an AT&T executive observed – “a massive amount of processing power”.

Also, the ethical implications of this new type of user experience will need sorting out. If my primal brain says I want bacon, but salad is the smarter option, which will the digital restaurant menu show first? If I tell my vendor that I’m satisfied with the service, but my micro-expressions contradict this, is he allowed to know? If I’m depressed and consider killing myself, will the machines help me? Or stop me?

But all these elements will eventually be sorted out. Especially as first user tests indicate that after 20 seconds of usage, people have figured out the new way of working. They also prefer the intuitive nature and nanosecond speed over old-school UX.

So, there is still a number of years mileage in today’s user experience design practices. But the genie is out of the bottle and there’s no way we’ll put it back in. In my mind, UX as we know it, is a dead man walking.

What are your thoughts when you read the above? Good? Bad? Ugly?

Alternatively, if you want to talk to me about any of these topics do get in touch.

This article first appeared on www.alainthys.com.

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