Alex Bunardzic
Jun 17, 2016 · 4 min read
Artwork and photo by Milanka Bunard

Steam engine was one of the most important technological inventions. One of the first applications of the steam engine was to power the locomotive pulling the train cars. But soon after that got implemented people wanted to use steam engine to also power boats. John Fitch engineered the first steamboat in 1787. He built the boat Perseverance by adding a bank of oars on either side of the boat. A steam engine was then used to power the oars.

“Plan of Mr. Fitch’s Steam Boat”, The Columbian Magazine(December 1786), woodcut by James Trenchard.
Model of the first steamboat Perseverance, built in 1787

From Text To Graphical User Interfaces

Graphical User Interface (GUI) got popularized by Microsoft when they released Windows 3.0. That was 26 years ago (Windows 3.0 became available in 1990).

But the real popularity of GUIs actually happened a few years later, with Windows 3.1. Before Windows 3.1 became mainstream, majority of people were using textual user interface. Textual interface was often referred to as the green screen interface. It consisted of a dark screen displaying green characters. The screen real estate consisted of 22 rows and 70 columns.

GUIs took the world by the storm because they eliminated the need for typing text commands. With textual interface users had to understand and memorize the syntax of various commands. But when using GUIs users could get things done by clicking on buttons and tabs etc. No need to memorize and recall anything. The only hurdle for the user was to be able to recognize the widget on the screen and then use it.

Soon after GUIs hit the mainstream, the need arose to modernize green screen applications. Here is one example of how did the transformation from green screen to GUI go:

Converting green screen application to a more modern GUI application

As you can see, the resulting application is just a text application masquerading as GUI. Here is another example:

Converting green screen application to a more modern GUI application

The above example looks a little less lame than the previous one. But upon closer inspection it reveals the same problem. It’s just a poorly disguised text application. Adding an image cannot salvage the botched attempt at GUI.

Finally, here is an example of a horribly botched GUI. Just because it’s graphical, doesn’t mean it’s intuitive:

From Graphical User Interfaces To Bots

The first steamboat and the first text-to-GUI examples point at the same problem. First few iterations of any technological invention tend to be a write-off. With maturing, the breakthrough technology gets applied in a more reasonable way. Later iterations of a steamboat replaced oars with propellers. Later iterations of text-to-GUI applications replaced complex forms with elegant pages.

We’re seeing the same problems today with bots. People who are designing and building bots are like John Fitch who only knew about oars. John Fitch couldn’t envision something like a propeller. Because he got stuck in the past, he was only able to devise that silly steamboat. Today his steamboat looks not only contrived but also ludicrous. But back in his day, it looked normal. That’s because people could not envision anything different.

There are many bots on the market today who look like a contrived mobile app. Instead of focusing on the new possibilities, many bot builders are clinging to the past. They don’t seem capable of envisioning a bot that would not mimic the mobile app experience.

My call to action — break the crusty shell of GUI! Start looking at bots with fresh eyes! Don’t let the past weigh you down.

Intrigued? Want to learn more about the bot revolution? Read more detailed explanations here:

The Age of Self-Serve is Coming to an End
Only No Ux Is Good UX
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

Bots For Business

Bots are not only beneficial for end users, they’re even more beneficial for the businesses

Alex Bunardzic

Written by

Medium member. Alex enjoys designing and building quality software.

Bots For Business

Bots are not only beneficial for end users, they’re even more beneficial for the businesses

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade