Prof. Wolfgang Henseler: Natural User Interface Design – a new way of thinking

Ever since the economic success of Apple, everyone has been well aware that good design and user-friendliness make up the essential components of economic wealth today. In the 1980s, Apple first showed signs of success with Steve Jobs’ realisation that the graphical user interface would revolutionise our working ­environment. The high usability of the new systems resulted in graphic-based programs prevailing over command-line oriented systems such as MS-DOS. 

And it was again this usability that lead to the fact that we, human beings, today prefer to use a smartphone and tablet much more often than a laptop or computer. However, is was not only the graphical user interface (GUI) designed in the 1980s that was accountable for all this, but also its successor; the natural user interface (NUI). Such Natural User Inter­­faces do not only possess a significant higher level of user-friendliness and are thus more economically effective, efficient and much more enjoyable to use, but at the same time, they also form the basis for the next Internet revolution – the Internet of Things.

In order to grasp this change, it is necessary to un­­derstand that this usability is the natural driver of change for humans. With this usability, we can increase our performance potential significantly. If you consider the time-saving benefits of NUI and GUI-based in­­ter­actions or IT-systems alone, you would come to an average of around the factor 8. This means that a user just needs an hour to com­­plete a work activity that once took eight hours! A time-saving benefit, that is a result of system behaviour and its intuitive design, not only ex­­cites its users, but is above all extremely crucial for companies across the globe.

What is it that makes the NUI-based systems so much more successful than the usual GUI systems? The novelty lies in the systems’ unique design, thus making them much more natural and intuitive to use. When it comes to designing the graphical user interfaces, the main focus is placed on its appearance; whereas for natural user interfaces, emphasis is placed on shaping the system’s performance. It is no longer the appearance, for instance given content, that is becoming the most important design component, but instead the performance, such as a service.

It is exactly this design-related paradigm shift from “look to feel” which is responsible for the success of this new generation of computer systems and which has triggered its rapid dissemination and usage worldwide. The change from GUI to NUI, however, requires a radical rethink, a mental transformation or as Steve Jobs once put it: “It’s all about people and changing their minds.”

The digital transformation which essentially emerged from the natural user interface is now having an impact on every aspect of our life .
The impact of this rapid change can be seen from one day to the next – within the economy, among human beings, their training systems and so on. Those who fail to think and act in these new dimensions either become a “niche” or gradually disappear from the market such as Kodak, Nokia, Dell and other companies. Yet it is by no means that these changes must raise the alarm or pose any constraints. On the contrary, such changes open up enor­­mous potential in terms of individual and economic oppor­­tunities for those who can think innovatively in these di­­mensions. However, those who are not aware of these current changes and fail to recognise the potential of what’s new, the air gets thinner and thinner the higher they get.

Let’s take the publishing industry as an example: its spec­­trum of opportunities is nowadays better than ever, how­­ever, opportunities are rarely recognised and taken advan­­tage of. It is specifically this sector that exudes extreme economic potential which could be easily exploited today. They would only have to understand that in the era of dig­­ital transformation, it is necessary to think service as opposed to content. Products no longer count, but in­­­stead product ECO systems and the impact of the service, rather than the service itself. In many areas of our econ­­omy and policies, it is evident that this new way of think­­ing results in a lack of orientation as opposed to success­fully making use of what’s new. Discouraged by the partly radical transformation that is taking place, increased complexity in terms of usage and the significant changes, they stay put just like “a rabbit caught in headlights” without realising that the new system providers like Google, Apple or Amazon have already started to gradually outstrip them. Along with the increasing necessity to rethink, the need and the requirements for digital edu­­cation are also on the up because only those who have grasped and internalised the fundamental rules of the new will be able to use these successfully. The need for concepts and methods, to position oneself well against the new and to place oneself in an economically sustainable way is increasing on a daily basis. There is a demand for new business models for an analogue-digital world whose smooth connections present enormous potential for us, the economy, society as well as the environment.

In the past, the global success of the personal computer struck every aspect of our life after the design of the graphic user interface and in the same way today, the natural user interface design heralds the next revolution in terms of thought and will once again change our work and life environ­­ment or as Albert Einstein once said: “The problems we are facing can’t be solved by the same thinking that created them.”

Der Autor ist Gründer und Creative Director des Offenbacher Designstudios von SENSORY-MINDS. Gleichzeitig hält er eine Professur an der Hochschule Pforz­heim im Bereich Digitale Medien und Master of Creative Directions. Er ist Begründer sowie Studiengangsleiter des innovativen Studiengangs „Intermediales Design“ und un­­terrichtet in den Fächern Natural User Interface Design, eCRM, Design- and Inno­­vation-Thinking, Social Media, Smarte Technologien, Usability and User Experience.