No Interface is Still an Interface

Posted on March 18th, 2015

This morning The Verge posted an article titled, The best interface is no interface: why we don't always need An App for That. I'm going to ignore that this is a thinly veiled advertisement for a book and instead focus on the mistakes that the author, Golden Krishna is assuming through the use of logical fallacies and weasel words: that somehow a 'better' interface means 'no' interface.

Interfaces are how things get done. It doesn't matter if you can see the interface or not; it's still there. No interface is still an interface. It is the way that a thing interacts with another thing and things happen.

Good design isn't about removing the interface, it's about providing an intuitive interface at the correct time. If you want to evolve design, then you have to use contextual awareness to inform your product so that it can improve the user experience.

Take this little guy:

A light switch

If you are in a dimly lit room, and the only thing you see is this toggle switch, flipping that switch and flooding the room with light is pretty good design. It did what you needed it to do, you learned by doing, and chances are that it will inform your decision the next time you come into contact with one.

Now, based on Krishna's premise, you can take your stupid light switch and shove it. This is what you REALLY need:

A motion sensor

This interface requires no interaction from you. All you do is demonstrate some of the laws of motion and here comes your light. It's almost shocking that they don't sell a version that gives a satisfying hum like the doors in 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

The problem is that what if you are sitting still and reading? What if you walked in and didn't want the light to come on? If the light doesn't come on, how do I know when the bulb is out, versus when the sensor has malfunctioned? Why did whoever designed this room decide that they knew what was best for me, and that they felt that I shouldn't have a choice in the matter?

That's why this is good design:

An automatic light switch with manual toggle

This interface tries wants to provide you with what it thinks is best for your context, but you still have the option to perform things informed by your own decisions.

It is certainly important for designers and engineers to understand context and action for anything that they intend to produce. Too cumbersome and you burden the user with an education, too simplistic and you cannot correct for mistakes in attribution.

The best interface is an intuitive interface.