Experience is Forever: Prophecies for a No-UI Era

I’m a futurist. What do I mean by that? I love the future and all things pertaining to it. I like to think about what’s coming next. My next meal. My next vacation. My next new car. It’s like Christmas for me when I have something to look forward to. I’ve always been an early adopter to technology and I willingly buy-in to a company like Apple’s “planned obsolescence” model of product releases…take all my money!

As a designer I believe that it’s important to be a student of society, culture, current events, and yes, the future. A few years ago, I became interested in apocalyptic prophecy, more specifically the work of 16th century French soothsayer Nostradamus.

Both have had their fair share of claims with pretty mixed results when it comes to predicting forthcoming events with some notable successes and failures.

Despite any inaccuracy in predicting the future, his work sheds light on one undeniable kernel of truth which I like to live my life by: Learn from the past, be aware of the present, but keep your eyes moving forward so you don’t trip. And I have really bad balance.

The writing is on the wall: We are entering a time in our history in which a software’s user interface will be less and less important. A time when a word, nay a thought will be more powerful than a keystroke, click, or tap ever was. A time where we won’t judge software on the perfection of its pixels, but rather the content of its logic. We are entering a No-UI Era.


A frictionless experience, it’s what millennials crave!

Millennials grew up in a time of prosperity and plenty, but they also grew up with real war, real terrorism, and ultimately watching the American dream that their Boomer parents had built falling down to reality.

The millennial perspective: A combination of realism and cynical irony drives millennials’ ever-growing sense of impatience.

While the population size and technology usage habits makes millennials the target market for a growing number of products, regardless of which generation we fall into, we can all agree there are some common everyday interactions that we all hate. Why do we hate them? FRICTION. We’ve all heard it, “Don’t make me think.” It’s the UX designer’s mantra for a reason. If we expect too much effort from our users, they lose interest, and we lose them.

Complicated UI + UX = friction.


Your grandma is on Facebook…and it’s getting awkward.
A REAL Facebook exchange…with a few names changed.

We are living longer, more fulfilling lives so it’s no surprise that there’s a growing issue with current technology trends and interaction patterns not meeting the needs of an aging user base that grew up in the analog world but are still intent on staying connected with friends and loved ones using the digital world.

With that desire comes inherent complications from digital communications like a tweet or a wall comment — both of which are void of historical precedent and ultimately, brand new experiences.

This is further complicated by a UI that gives very little in the way of context clues about what an action’s ramifications truly are.

A little guidance in the user interface would be helpful as more generations embrace technology.


Self-awareness is a virtue.
Me, circa 1986.

When I was a kid I became kind of obsessed with with words and the sound of them. So much so that I loved (and still do) to mindlessly, sometimes loudly repeat whatever word happened to catch my fancy at the time. Much to my parents’ chagrin.

My mom loved the old Disney musicals that she grew up watching and she exposed me to them from a young age. I had just watched the original Parent Trap movie…(you know the one with Hayley Mills not Lindsey Lohan) and it was fresh on my mind. There’s a song in the movie called “let’s get together”, 8 year old me found it to be especially catchy. It went a little something like this.

Scene from the 1961 Disney film, The Parent Trap.

Unrelated, I had recently become ENAMORED, with the words “wiener” and “butt”. I remember like it was yesterday, while in the middle of avoiding one evening’s math homework at my parents dinner table, I started chanting “wiener…butt…wiener…butt!” then i remembered that song..”humming…” which turned into: “Put the wiener in the butt, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Without the proper ‘world view’ at the time, I thought nothing of it. My love for singing this song went on longer than I’m proud of. I was 12 when one day during an especially boring trip to the grocery store with my mom, while in the cereal aisle, i started singing: “Put the wiener in the b…OH MY GOD!” That was the day that I became self aware, and never looked back. I still shudder when I think of that moment.

There’s a point here…You find something that works for you, it’s comfortable so you use it over and over again. Change especially one that is deeply embedded in the fabric of who we are and what we do is difficult not to mention super super scary. It can cause a polar shift of sorts in your perspective.

We all have our bag of tricks that we rely on in our work. If you get too comfortable and don’t look around sometimes, things may have changed (technologies, expectations, trends) and you may find yourself out of touch. Technology is moving towards less friction and less dependence on a visible UI. Weather you like it or not these are the rules we have to play within.

Self-awareness is a virtue…and “U” and “I” should have it.


Your children and their children will be smarter than you. A lot smarter.

For decades we’ve romanticised what technology will become, popular culture has played a large part in this and technology is becoming more human, and so must become our interaction with it.

For anybody making a living peddling pixels, the idea of ubiquitous computing certainly is intimidating. The touchless and all but invisible experiences that these devices facilitate are meant to be spoken to rather than physically manipulated. Our children will have all but unfettered access to information whenever they want it. We have to accept this and design for this new reality.

The Microsoft Windows 10 commercial captures the essence of this brave new world best: “Imagine: These kids won’t have to remember passwords, or obsess about security. They’ll expect their devices to listen to them, talk, sing, and tell a funny joke. And as they grow and get better at things, their technology will too. They’ll do things that their parents never even dreamed of. The future starts now, for all of us.”

Our kids may be smarter than us, but we need to continue to create the tools for them to get there…and that’s on us.


Visual UI is on its way out, but your don’t have to be.
A gaggle of skeuomorphic cameras from Dribbble.com.

Barring any major disasters, the idea of someone who makes a living solely designing user interfaces is quickly going away. True statement (and I’m sorry if I offend someone): nobody cares about that meticulously crafted (and artisanal) toggle switch that made or that skeuomorphic camera icon that you toiled on for hours. As beautiful as they might be, its likely that only other designers will care. The average person won’t think twice about them.

Much like when I was designing for print and would joke about designing people’s junk mail, there’s a temporary nature to UI design.

It’s that simple to dramatically alter the appearance of an app’s UI. Its fickle and driven by the whims of what design trends mandate.

Here you can see how Instagram’s UI and brand evolved over the course of a few years.

(Left) Diagram from Atebits’ “Pull-to-refresh” patent. (Right) Tweetie for iPhone and iPad.

Loren Britcher’s and Atebits seminal iOS twitter client: Tweetie truly broke the mold. It was the preferred twitter client for many geeks. But what it’s probably best remembered for (before being acquired by Twitter) was its introduction to the mobile world of a little thing called “pull-to-refresh.”

With “Pull to refresh” Birtcher and Atebits invented something that had a life much greater than the app and especially the UI he created for Tweetie. He created nay, HE DESIGNED a memorable experience, a great UX that we still use today.

In our new reality where we speak, gesture and imagine to interact with our technology this is no different. We(Designers) should care more about the EXPERIENCE that users are getting from our design than what it looks like…still feels weird to say that.

In a completely touchless and faceless UI this is especially important. Ultimately designers are best-suited to be the champions for memorable No-UI experiences. I believe this whole-heartedly. Our jobs are all about details, and creating elegance…we just can’t be afraid of this opportunity.

Like many others I’ve stopped calling myself a “UI Designer” or a “UI/UX Designer”. When out at dinner with my parents and they ask me for like the 10th time what I do, is say “I design experiences”…(as i drink from my glass raising my pinky).

At the of the day we are all just over-grown primates and we want to touch things. History and reality dictates that in all likelihood UI will not go away completely.

The lesson? We as UI designers should care more about the memorable experience we are crafting than what it looks like.

But at the end of the day we are all just overgrown primates and we want to touch things. History and reality dictates that, in all likelihood, UI will not go away completely.

Likely it will become the secondary form of interaction. The fact is, even the best engineered technology will fail, and in our no-UI future, a visible UI is that fall back. So it needs to be sound and have a UX that makes sense to the no-UI user.

UI as we know it may be obsolete, but yours doesn’t have to be.


Designer as Soothsayer.

So there you have it the future as I see it. Believe what you want of it. Much like my Seer forefathers, I boldly and proudly stick to my guns. I may be completely wrong, but chances are, at least one thing I said will (in some way come true)…just watch.

Predictions aside, we are hurdling towards a future that in all likelihood will look different than today. We need to be aware and not forget what part of our work really matters: the experience. As designers and technologists we have the opportunity to effect and improve the future. Its ours to utilize or squander.

Good designers are soothsayers. They aren’t reactive to the past but active in the present. They don’t fall in love with the now, but anticipate what’s next.