Conversational UI and the Future of UI Design

When it comes to user interfaces, most people would only know graphical user interface, which is the standard in this time in design history although it has only been around since the 1980’s. It has continually progressed to be easy to use and visually attractive. This type of user interface may be the most popular and standard but it has a few faults. Its main problem is that it doesn’t work perfectly with mobile. This is due to the fact that mobile devices have to0 small of a space to display elements the way that they need to be displayed. Another fault is that because one has the click through many steps to complete a task, time gets wasted.

The use of GUI’s as the only interface type is slowly but surely changing. Conversational User interfaces are working their way towards being the main user interface, which will really change the interaction between us and our technology. The main characteristic of CUI’s is of course that it is conversational, that lies in the name. But what exactly is a conversational interface? It is a UI that imitates talking to an actual human. Rather than interacting with the computer by doing things like clicking on buttons, you tell the computer what to do. There is more than one type of conversational interface. The two most basic ones being voice assistants which you would use your voice to speak to and chatbots which you would use your fingers to type to. An example of the first is Apple’s Siri and Google’s OK Google that are both widely used.

As user interface technology creeps closer and closer towards CUI’s as being the main interface, there are questions as to how this is going to affect technology in the future and how much CUI’s are going to evolve. Although CUI’s like Siri already exist, they are very basic. You wont just have to ask a question like you do with Siri but can have actual discussions with your device about things. CUI’s will completely understand you. They will be able to understand you even if you are speaking fast or slow and will understand what you mean even if you miss speak. Although it sounds strange or ‘scary’, CUI’s will know you just as well as a friend would, they will comprehend everything about you, down to your routines and how long it takes you to get bored.

With CUI’s, they will remove the danger element that comes with needing to use your phone while busy with things that make it dangerous, such as driving a car. This will be possible because you would not have to use your hands for anything at all, or even look down. You need only your voice. One of the greatest things about CUI’s is how it will help the disabled. Anyone will be able to use it, no matter his or her situation. No need for eyesight, hearing etc., just the use of your voice. Although it belongs in a different topic entirely CUI’s will change the way we drive, removing the danger of having to take your eyes off the road. Especially for the younger generation, a plus of CUI’s dominating the future of user interface design, is that they wont have to teach their parents how to use technology anymore as everything will be so simple to use, they just need to ask the technology how to use it, instead of asking you.

For a current user interface designer, facing the prospect of CUI’s can be worrying as to how their jobs may change in the future or if they may become obsolete. Designing GUI’s is much easier because there are such programs as Photoshop and illustrator, which are used to create the visuals so important in GUI’s. CUI’s have no visuals, which make the term designer seem to not apply there. However, designers will just have to evolve with CUI’s. Personality will be the new user experience. The skills required from a designer will dramatically change, things like pixels will no longer matter. Designers will have to be able to create characters and think about how words and certain uses of words can change people’s responses. As CUI’s are still being properly developed and introduced into modern technology, the interactivity of it still has to be totally worked out so no one is really sure yet of exactly what role interface design will play besides for creating personalities that people feel comfortable engaging with.

As a person who uses technology daily just like most people do, the idea of CUI’s are very interesting to me and very helpful. However as an interaction design student the prospect of CUI’s scare me. This is because we are being told and seeing everywhere that CUI’s are going to be the future of UI design while we currently learn GUI at university. This means that even though GUI skills are important because they aren’t going to disappear entirely for probably quite awhile, it is still daunting to think of a future where we will not have the skills required to keep up with the direction our jobs will go in. As CUI design is just starting, we cannot properly study it and gain required skills. Hopefully however, once completely my degree and getting a job, I will be able to grow an understating of CUI’s while they get developed although vastly different from designing GUI’s.

What I think of, as a huge positive of CUI’s is that everyone will be able to use them, even those disabled, making them greatly inclusive. Another positive is the safety of the hugely reduced changes of accidents due to distractions when trying to use technology while performing a task that needs all your attention. The easiness of just having to talk to get something done seems convenient although I fear life with CUI’s could get rather boring without visual stimulus. Although being slightly wary of CUI, its good to remember that a few years ago, other people were in the same position, worried about the impact of new technologies that we now take for granted.