Skip to main content

A natural user interface or NUI is an interface that uses natural human behaviour such as touch, gesture and voice to execute commands. Natural user interfaces allow users to interact with technology using behaviour that is already learned and hence natural to the user. The technology becomes invisible. Think of swiping across the screen to remove an image, talking hands-free while driving your car, scoring the winning goal by kicking a virtual ball.

When designing for NUI here are some basic principles to keep in mind:

Learned Behaviour

A natural user interface should be designed such that anyone regardless of level of expertise can interact with it. The design should consider natural human behaviour such as touch, that allows the user to work through the interface without having to learn a new skill. By considering the skills that are inherent in all humans such as touch, speech and gestures, you keep your user base wide open and create an interface that is a pleasure to use.

Beginner to Advanced

You need to lay out a clear learning patch for users, one that allows them to start with basic skills and move on to something more advanced step by step.

As much as you want your interface to be easy for beginners, you also want novice users to be able to advance their skills at their own pace. Users with a high level of expertise should be able to move quickly and with ease to the level that they are comfortable.

Your goal is to make the interface effortless and the technology invisible.

Direct Reaction

The interaction with the interface should be a direct reaction to the users’ commands, through voice, touch or gesture. The NUI should mimic the physical world of the user. Gamers should feel as if they are on the field, in the air, running down a corridor. In this way the user experiences an immediate emotion and the experience is real to them. Your goal is to make the interface effortless and the technology invisible.

Brain Space

By making the technology invisible the user can focus all their mental energy on the task at hand. By limiting the cognitive load or brain space needed to use the interface, users have more mental energy for executing the task at hand.

The Benefits

In addition to human behavior such as touch, speech and gestures, neural signals can be used in programs to translate those signals into action. Think of someone who cannot speak, who cannot use touch or gestures but who can use brain signals to operate a motorized wheelchair or prosthetic limb.

Satisfying the needs of your end users is the ultimate goal. Know your target audience, your end users and their needs. Better yet, know their needs and their level of comfort and expertise when it comes to technology. Great design transcends technology and shifts the power to the individual, so that the next generation of brilliance in science, art or exploration can yield advances in humankind to keep us forging through to the next frontier and beyond.

Until next time!