Review of the book Brave NUI World

Volodymyr Kurbatov
Mar 8 · 4 min read

There wouldn’t be a better sum up that provided by authors on the last page of the book:

We did not write a “NUI for dummies” or imply that one could create a NUI by following a simple 10-step process. Instead, we’ve provided a variety of essays on the NUI and grounded these essays in specific recommendations.

And it’s true; the book contains 30 chapters, each focused on a specific part of the designing NUI.

Initially, I hesitated to start reading this book. What can I find in a ten years old book about design for touchscreens? Indeed it wasn’t interesting for me as a mobile designer. But I found a lot of references to the current state of XR design. Back then, talking about NUI’s future is the same as right now talking about design for immersive fields. Many interaction patters are defined, but there is so much to discover. It was so entertaining reading this book through the prism and apply the recommendations to more modern technologies.

The GUI is interaction mediated by a mouse (or some other pointing device). The web interaction is very simple: just point and click. The challenge of web design is knowing where to click to get the desired result. The NUI designer should forget all she knows about these highly successful designs and should instead begin with a clean sheet. But how do you “fill the paper”?”

Today it’s more true for spatial design.

The book even had some tips related to 3D:

3D Space Utilization (the z-Axis)
When users view them (UI objects) at a closer distance, they see more detail, such as additional information, subtle textures, or hints of reflected light” (add my prototype)

I have to admit that I still won’t use the term Natural User Interface. Authors spend a lot of efforts explaining what they mean by the word Natural:

NUI is not about what’s guessable or what mimics some other experience, but rather what makes the user feel like Michael Jordan while using your system.

But then the word Natural was used in regular meaning:

Avoid questions like “what feels natural to me?” As with any other element of a user experience, the designer is far from a typical user.

This is even more applicable to hand interactions:

Never rely on an action being “natural” (a.k.a. “guessable”). It’s not.

The only exception to the above is “direct manipulation” — users can and will guess to grab something and move it somewhere else.

But using direct manipulations in VR for all the interactions is a dead-ended way, as it needs a lot of efforts and isn’t scalable at all.

Most designers never had truly design a user interface. Instead, they have relied on the designs of others, provided within the connective tissue of decades of iterative design. Buttons. Scrollbars. Check boxes. Radio buttons. Each of these comes from this iterative design process, started by Engelbart and English, and continued by the designers at PARK, Apple, Microsoft and elsewhere.

This is a good point. I’m designing for XR, as it’s like the wild west. Here I can invent some of the blocks that will help future creators design their spacial interfaces.

Create an experience that is authentic to the medium — do not start by trying to mimic the real world or anything else.

Another point to avoid copying real-life interactions and invent more creative and platform-unique solutions.

Few more quotes from the book:

Scaffolding is the creation of a design that promotes autonomous learning by employing actions that encourage users to develop their own cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skills.

Don’t attempt to identify users if you don’t need to. Except in widely accepted contexts (for example, ATM systems), users prefer to remain anonymous. They are highly suspicious when asked to identify themselves for a system.

“no touch left behind” — ensure that every input to the system is meaningful and receives a clear response that allows users to link it back to their physical actions.

Take into account what the hardware is good at. Your primitives must be sensed reliably.

So dead simple:

Re-use similar visual affordances to afford the same gestures over and over again. This is commonly known as a “user interface”.

Your goal in addressing user guessing and learning is not to try to make your gesture language guessable without help. Instead, your goal is to create an internally consistent set that can be applied again and again when prompted by appropriate affordances and guided with appropriate feedback.

I would recommend this book to all UI designers. But I’m sure that spatial interface designers will find many exciting parallels between NUI and spatial UI 😉

We all have a few failures under our belt. It’s what makes us ready for the successes.
Randy K. Milholland, Midnight Macabre, 10–18–05

Learn about user experience in augmented and virtual…