User Experience (UX) is a design discipline that deals with human-machine interaction. Humans have been making machines for a long time now. Up until recently, machines have been quite crude and clunky. We even coined the term ‘human-machine barrier’ to highlight that crudeness.
So to lower that barrier we started designing user experiences. Any time a human needs to use a machine, the human-machine barrier emerges. The machine appears enigmatic and sometimes even hostile to the human user. We need to design experiences that will appease users’ anxieties when using machines. In designing those experiences we’re aiming at the quality that’s described as ‘intuitive’.
What Is Intuitive?
Any knowledge we arrive at without relying on conscious reasoning is intuitive. If we bypass analytic reasoning and still feel that something is correct, that’s intuition.
If there is a barrier on our path, we try to push it aside. That’s intuitive behaviour, as we don’t have to reason about it. If we find ourselves in front of a closed door, we’ll try to open it. That’s intuitive behaviour again.
But what if we find ourselves in front of a software application? That’s where intuition fails. And that’s why we’re forced to get training before we could use the app.
UX Is Another Word For Self-Serve
Using computer software is the providence of people who indulge in self-serve activities. Most of the time, only underprivileged people resort to self-serve. For example, if I cannot hire an accountant, I’ll use accounting software package. I’ll then spend a lot of time serving myself. I’ll do that by attempting to overcome the dreaded human-machine barrier. Needless to say, the experience will be frustrating.
This is kind of like the experience of pumping gas. When pulling into a gas station, we have a choice: full serve or self serve. People who are well off can afford the full serve. Those on a tighter budget have no choice but to serve themselves. It’s one ugly, dirty, smelly user experience.
But those who are rich can even afford no user experience whatsoever. No self serve, no full serve. Why? Because they can afford to have their own car mechanic and their own chauffeur. Let those less privileged people inhale toxic fumes and wrestle with the dirty machinery.
When Human-Machine Barrier Disappears
We’re now entering the revolution that threatens to dissolve the human-machine barrier. Few factors have conspired to make that reality possible. Rapid advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) are enabling machines to understand natural language. Ever growing digital networks spanning the globe promise to not leave any human behind. Affordable computing devices (smartphones and wearables) ensure the presence of the economies of scale.
In this brave new world, there will be less need for self-serve. The underprivileged users will graduate into the more privileged layer of consumers. Instead of spending time wrestling with human-machine barrier, users will let AI-powered machines do the work.
When UX Disappears
If I can afford to hire an accountant, the last thing I’m hoping to get for my money is user experience. Having a user experience with my accountant would mean I have hired an incompetent clown. The last thing I want is to get enquiries from the Revenue Services after my accountant files my taxes.
Same is true for any other service. Quality of service gets measured by how seamless, how non-intrusive it is. Hiring the right resources for the job results in peace of mind. Otherwise, an endless barrage of vexations is unavoidable.
User experience is even less desirable when dealing with machines. We need machines to do the menial work. We don’t need to be cognizant of any fuss that may happen along the way. As owners and masters of the machines, we need peace and quiet so that we can focus on our real work.
Bring Content Closer To The Consumer
As technology progresses, it brings the content into ever more prominent focus. In the pre-technology days, people had to go to great lengths for any content. Before we had books, people had to travel to meet a good story teller. Before we had sound reproduction technology, people had to travel to see musicians performing.
Lack of technology imposes severe time and space limitations. We have to not only travel the distances, but also time our arrival to coincide with the performance. But as soon as we add technology to the mix, we liberate ourselves from those constraints.
In the early days technology liberated us from having to travel the distances. Radio days enabled us to stay home and still enjoy the content (music or speech). But it didn’t liberate us from time constraints. We still had to schedule our activities around the predetermined radio programming. Same was with television.
As technology progressed, it allowed us to consume the content at any time we wanted. Record and tape players enabled us to amass a collection of content we could enjoy at any time. There was only one remaining limitation — containers.
Vinyl records, magnetic tapes and digital discs are containers that carry the content. But technology didn’t stop there. It got rid of the containers altogether, so that today we can stream any content on demand.
We see how technology progresses toward liberating the content from the containers. By doing so, technology is bringing the content ever closer to the consumer. And thus the UX component of consuming some content also disappears. Instead of operating some machinery, users can now sit back and enjoy seamless streaming.
People in privileged positions have a choice whether to have user experience or not. Those less privileged don’t have that choice. A well off person can hire the workforce to go through the UX while they sit back. A person on a tight budget doesn’t have that luxury.
Freedom boils down to having a choice. When it comes to UX, we should have a freedom of choice. Most likely, I don’t want to have any UX. But there may be cases where I’d prefer to have it. It should be my call, and I should not be coerced into it.
Intrigued? Want to learn more about the bot revolution? Read more detailed explanations here:
The Age of Self-Serve is Coming to an End
Stop Building Lame Bots!
Four Types Of Bots
Is There A Downside To Conversational Interfaces?
Are Bots just a Fad? Are GUIs really Superior?
How to Design a Bot Protocol
Breaking The Fourth Wall In Software
Bots Are The Anti-Apps
How Much NLP Do Bots Need?
Screens Are For Consumption, Not For Interaction
P.S. Many thanks to my friend Albert Meyburgh for reviewing the first draft and bouncing some ideas with me.