The Digital Sixth Sense

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June 4, 2015 • Digital, Service Design • Views: 1150

Which came first: Technology or UX/UI?

I was having a conversation about UI/UX recently with a friend who has made this very much her professional career, which got me thinking about a question: Which came first: Technology or UX/UI?

At first I thought the obvious answer was technology.  Technology has led to the creation of the Graphic User Interface, followed by the science of UX/UI. But a few days later I came across a book “The best interface is no interface” by Golden Krishna, which annoyed me to no end. With the evolution of technology bringing UX/UI into the world, how can an interface be so bad that you would need to get rid of it all together? It was a statement I imagined only a non-UX person would make, much less a seasoned UX professional such as the author.

Then it dawned on me. I have been thinking about this the wrong way round. UI/UX has been around for far longer and preceded technology as we know it today. The problem here boils down to the fact UX/UI is often seen in a very limited light – the familiar GUI screens of the desktop PC, smart phone, tablets and smart watches: Personal computers and electronic technology.

UX/UI has been with us even before the dawn of technology.

Let’s take a look at a brief history of electronic technology:

  • John Bardeen and Walter Brattain in 1947 at AT&T’s Bell Labs discovered how to create semiconductors which lead to the invention of the Transistor.
  • The transitory led to the formation of the semiconductor industry, which would then develop a method to cheaply manufacture Microprocessors.
  • Microprocessors fueled the development of the Personal Computer, and finally Apple launched the very first mass-produced integrated GUI and mouse control PC.

If technology came first, then by this logic UX was a mere embryo in 1947. But technology is not just limited to the Personal Computer. Take these three non-electronic examples:

  • A real live horse
  • A car (let’s say a Porsche Boxster)
  • A 1939 Singer Sewing machine

They all have user interfaces a human would operate. A trained horse can take direction from the movement of the human hands, their feet and subtle movement of their body. A Porsche is a mechanical technology with fine chassis for that ultimate driving experience. A Singer sewing machine has wheels, levers, foot plates for the user to operate the machine.

However, there is something in common with these 3 things that is not immediately obvious – they all possess a highly developed Sixth Sense UX which we don’t see in today’s technology. The interface is so advanced a user can operate these 3 things intuitively with a highly developed sense and very little need to use your eyes. Although I would not recommend driving a Porsche with your eyes closed, you would have no problems feeling and using the controls before crashing into that lamppost. In all these examples, whatever you are controlling you are doing so with a different sense other than your eyes. The machines and horse change direction and provide feedback as you interact with it, creating a tightly coupled loop of action/reaction experience acting as a single joined entity.

Here is my curve ball.

The current attention on Apple’s new smart watch may well be the medium to finally open this advancement in UI/UX, and the Taptic Engine employed in the Apple Smart Watch is the first step for these technologies to have a unique ability to connect directly to our other human senses. I hope this will lift the whole UX/UI concept to a whole new level that I like to refer to as PE – Personal Experience. Leveraging the use of the digital sixth sense.

I am not saying the Apple Watch will deliver this in its entirety, but it is one medium that may well contribute to a diversification of UX/UI. UX/UI is no longer just an app or a Facebook page, but an experience so intuitively delivered, at lightning speed, and touching our personal senses. It is the future where the boundary of technological interfaces merge ever closer to the human interface that is much more holistic with much less constraint.

Those who have ever ridden a horse would know that part of the excitement in riding a horse is that continuous connection and tight integration of the feedback you experience from controlling a horse, its reaction, and then feeling that feedback.

There it is: the future is the Personal Experience with technology creating a paradigm shift, in which wearable technologies have the potential to deliver a game-changer simply by being in touch with our human Sixth Sense.

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