Take note digital planners and designers, we’re undergoing the greatest revolution in user interface design since Microsoft and Apple thrust their point and click interfaces on us in the mid 1990s. The 2010s will see a shift away from mouse controlled Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) to Natural User Interfaces (NUIs) as users expect gesture, voice and touch in their everyday applications.
The NUI generation (born 2003 onwards) already demand a more natural interface having known nothing but touch screens and waving their arms in front on an XBox Kinect, but given the simplicity of NUI control it will soon find favour amongst older folks and everyone else in between.
Let’s face it, the mouse was always a bit fiddly and was bound for the bottom drawer eventually but it is the speed of change that’s caught many interface designers off guard. In just 12 months we have seen smart phones, tablets and game designers make touch controls expected, the next 24 months will see touch all but replace the mouse, aided by intuitive voice and gesture based navigation. This change will be driven largely by computer games but also by other application designers looking for more convenient, user centred, ways to engage with their content.
By way of example we recently launched an application with 303 (for West Australian energy retailer Synergy) that was aimed squarely at kids aged 7 and up. It was an application that sought to educate young Australians about energy consumption and needed to engage kids, who have little time for written instruction. In short, it had to be natural.
Taking some ideas from game designers we developed an Xbox Kinect style game whereby kids could simply step up to a mat and start running to power an application that would teach them valuable lessons about energy consumption. By making it a movement controlled game we created an interface that was not only natural to our target audience but also one which engaged them to participate.
The results had to be seen to be believed. Kids, as if at a theme park, queued to participate and parents stood in the wings soaking up the energy conservation message. Only by exerting physical effort themselves could children truly experience the the effort required to produce energy and in turn how we should be more careful with using it unnecessarily. A traditional web based GUI just wouldn’t have worked.
As developers we may get caught up in the intricacies of the technology at play, using Kinect and complex code to convert body movement to indicative energy output, but the success of this digital communication came down to a simple to use, natural interface that suited the target audience. No instructions required, no mouse, no keyboard, no information architecture, just run….and learn.