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How the World is becoming our own User Interface

Today both digital and physical world are merging  and the future of UX is not contained in a screen anymore. Let's discover together how the world is becoming our own User Interface !👇🏻


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Josep Ferrer

a year ago | 7 min read

Image by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.

UI main changes along history and its coming future

In our early history, humans interacted directly with their surroundings — with no devices as a bridge. If the User Interface concept had existed then, one would say the world was our own User Interface.

Humans had to learn how to hunt mammoths or create fire by hard — so then it could be replicated easily. As soon as the first machines appeared, with the posterior arise of software and digital solutions, this so-called User Interface slowly shifted from the physical to the digital world.

Today electronic devices are omnipresent. You can’t escape. We are living in an exciting age of design and evolving user interfaces — a new technological era where our clothes, homes, cars, and cities are becoming one massive User Interface — dubbed by some as the ambient intelligence world.

Just closing the circle, and going back to our origins:We are now making the world our own User Interface once again.

Do you want to know more? Let’s try to find out together where do we come from and where are we going in the UX world! :)

What is UI?

First of all, we all need to make sure we understand the concept of User Interface. The User Interface is the dimension that lies between humans and machines — which basically means that stands as the layer that allows the interaction between the operator and the device.

For centuries, humans have been seeking to optimize their surroundings for maximum user comfort. Ever since the digital world started, it has been no exception. With its rapid growth, an exploration into human interaction with technology — and this digital world — has become essential. Common trends governing good UI and UX design have emerged to improve the experience as a whole.

According to Danielle Reid, the evolution of UI design can be broken down into four differentiated periods.

1. The Age of Tools

Early humans started communicating by drawing representations of the reality that surrounded them. This symbolism would later develop into art, writing and story-telling.

Some of the most basic tenets of the user interface can be traced as far back as 4000 BC to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui, which focuses on arranging your surroundings in the most optimal, harmonious or user-friendly way.

Image by Marco Zuppone on Unsplash

There is also evidence to suggest that, as early as the 5th century BC, Ancient Greek civilizations designed their tools and workplaces based on ergonomic principles according to Nicolas Marmaras and George Poulakakis research. Over time, tools became more sophisticated, resulting in some still being in wide use today such as pens.

2. The Age of Machines

The industrial revolution emphasized productivity. Machines allowed humans to scale up the production of objects to make our lives easier. Early machines did not present any digital interface — which basically meant that the hardware itself was the only way to interact with the machine — the User Interface of the time.

Machines were being mass-produced and the power shifted to them. The hardware as interface had arrived. However, it was necessary to learn how to use machines before they could be used. Not much has changed in terms of the User Experience when compared to ancient times.

Image by Pixa Bay on Pexels

3. The Age of Software

This one is the juicy one — almost everything happened here! As I am willing to write a finite — and hopefully not too long — story, I might be summarizing the most important events. For more detail, I do recommend checking the Carmel DeAmicis “The Decade of Design”.

It wasn’t until the emergence of coding that the real need to conceptualize the User Interface term got relevant. Software needed a User Interface that allowed humans — its users — to understand how to use it.

Image by Joshua Reddekopp on Pexels.

Apple had always invested in design more than most tech companies. Design was something differential for Apple. The iPhone, with its initial $499 price tag, became a visible status symbol, and changed the mainstream public’s expectations for how tech products should look and feel.

It was the first time everyone and their dog could see: This looks prettier than the other thing — by Jon Gold.

But mobiles did had another BIG impact on the User Interface evolution. They brought an avalanche of new information about users.Data, data and more data. A huge part of population had pocket-sized computers that could see, hear, and interact with what was nearby. And companies took advantage of this.

Image by Fauxels on Pexels

Product teams started running constant A/B tests on UI variations. They allowed to experiment with different button sizes and colors. They could check how these slight differences impacted sign ups, purchases, shares, or other behavior. Companies — with Facebook leading the charge — started hiring more designers to power these experiments and data-driven design became its own discipline.

Design represents a fundamental shift in competitive advantage. Ten-plus years ago it was all about the code. Now it will be about the elegance of design as a first principle of software development — by GitHub investor Peter Levine

Another important factor was the democratization of the UX designing tools. As design evolved, so did design tooling. Many tools emerged to focus on specific parts of the UI design process. And these tools ended up right into our browsers —just like Figma.

Image by Mario Gogh on Unsplash.

Since then, the UX term has evolved into different specializations. These days, there’s a growing tendency for companies to hire for very specific roles, such as UX researcher or interaction designer, to cover all of the different aspects of user experience.

Mobile sped up the pace of everything, design included. However, a lot of concerns have been raised about technology’s impact as well. Most companies found the power that a good UX had and used it, without realizing the concerning impact it would have — from digital addiction to the spread of fake news.

UX is now being redefined. Even though the design ethics has already been here for a long time — now is where most concerns generated by UX have had real impact on our societies. UX research experts are now advocating a shift into a more community-centered paradigm in UX designing which would consider community-level issues and needs.

4. The Age of the Self — The future of UI

The technology and screens we use today are merging into our surroundings. IoT — Internet of Things — and AI with voice assistance are already here. It is the dawning of the age of this so-called ambient intelligence where a multitude of devices work in concert to support people in carrying out their everyday life activities. As a consequence, screen-based UIs are slowly disappearing — and won’t be the main focus on the coming years anymore.

The IoT expands the use of our everyday devices into interactive environments putting functionality in the forefront. This next level in the evolution of UI design illustrates how everything comes full circle: Making all our surrounding our own User Interface. A good example would be the Apple Pencil, which is both hardware and software technology at its best, helping users draw and write in the digital environment but resembling the original — and physical — idea of a pen.

But there are so many fields that are just starting — or are already expanding really fast. Who doesn’t know Siri or Alexa? Voice user interfaces are helping to improve all kinds of user experiences. Voice can be passive or interactive and is a powerful way to interact with technology — as they are hands-free.

Image by Oleksandr Pidvalny on Pexels.

Motion tracking is another interesting field that is rapidly evolving. From the virtual reality to Google’s Project Soli, companies are now trying to make the ambient world to become a huge user interface. Enabling touchless gesture communication makes the interactions feel physical and responsive.

The future of the User Interface and User Experience is out there — surrounding us as any other tangible element.

Main Conclusions

UX and UI as an industry grew from technological developments that made it possible and necessary to customize software and hardware features to suit customer needs.

As more and more information-telecommunication technologies became available and accessible to the market, there became an increasing need not only to improve the physical attributes of products but to also enhance the industrial design, graphics quality, usability and overall human interaction with technology.

However, today that both digital and physical world are merging — the future of the User Experience is not contained in a screen anymore. The world is just starting to become our own User Interface — and this phenomena will just intensify in the coming years.

A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good — Martin Leblanc.

Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments! ✨


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Josep Ferrer

Trying to find me. Still no idea where did I go. A little bit of everything but data science and engineering. Not an expert, but still trying! :D


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