I was lucky to attend to the very interesting September edition of UX Book Club. This time, the book for review was Brave NUI World: Designing Natural User Interfaces for Touch and Gesture.
The space Nealite lent for the event was full of attendants, and some snacks and drinks were provided. For near 2h30 we were talking and discussing about Natural User Interfaces, Touch devices and Mobile developement, always around this very interesting book.
We represented a good profile diversity, with designers, UX, and programming people, which shows up how multidisciplinary and transversal is this book's target audience.
The first half of the book is more dedicated to hint about "checklists" for any interaction designer pretending to start thinking about patterns and navigation through a NUI. the authors keep thinking that NUI should not be read as "natural + user interface", but more like "natural user + interface", which has more sense as no interaction with a screen, nor gesture paradigm, should be called "natural" as "intuitive" and "learning free".
A Babyborn UI
Anyway, It is evident that this kind of NUI are in their babyhood right now, and we should see vast improvements in defining standard patterns as in enjoying more complex applications in a near future. After all, some still remember how simple were the first wave of WIMP software (ie macpaint, macwrite).
This book is, in fact, a first effort in establishing a background, based in the extensive experience the authors have had in Microsoft Surface platform, from where new ideas, initiatives and discussion must arise in order to make the NUI paradigm grow.
One of the key aspects of the book is the need of a rethink and rewrite apps from scratch in order to make them fit into NUI experience. In the conversation that we had with one of the authors, Daniel Wigdor, he shared a valuable insight: the lifespan of a new technology has 3 key stages.
1. First one is the "proof of concept"; the demo apps, the fireworks that make the "wooow" effect on the audience.
2. The second stage comes when creators start using the technology for create apps, usually trying to accomplish the same tasks they did before, but with this new media. this is a trial and error moment, where lots of apps fail to get the point of the technology.
3. And the third key stage is when, suddenly, somebody starts from scratch, and creates, from a blank sheet, a way to take advantage of the new technology with its own tools. What the book tries to give us is the basic tools for rethinking, and arrive to this third stage sooner.
He is one of the co-authors of the book, now off Microsoft (where he co-wrote it) and a Toronto University computer science teacher. Daniel agreed to have a very interesting Skype chat with us. He started with alittle known fact: part of this book has been used to create a Microsoft white paper to give Windows8 developers a good start in designing their applications with NUI in mind.
That said, the remark made in the beginning of the book regarding the intended scope of NUI applications (social sharing, retail/shops/transactions, public spaces/museums/exhibits, games and sharing experiences) should actually be extended to whatever we want them to be used in, always reminding the 3 key points of a NUI experience: Enjoyable, appropriate to context and leading to skilled practice.
Daniel shared also our fear that such a new paradigm may lead to fragmentation in apps which may use different gestures and/or patterns to achieve equivalent tasks, as well as erroneous patterns may arise as standards. Different applications belong to different ecosystems/context, however, but we all hope that some kind of standardization may come, as HTML5 is doing right now.
He finally hinted what would for him be a killer app type for a NUI: Something that facilitate your relation with people who is in front of you.
1. The book is a starting point, a declaration of insightful and useful principles to understand NUI, and open to growth and evolution.
2. The first half of it is where UX designers who want to create stablished NUIs (iOS/android/MS Surface) apps should study. It is full of key points to have always in mind in order to get the path to success.
3. The second half of the book is more OS engineer oriented, with useful structural guidelines for those who work in creating NUIs from scratch.
4. When thinking in NUI, the book suggests us to not limit our scope to tablet apps, but all the interfaces you may find in social places, in retail places, public spaces.
5. Always remember the 3 key points of a NUI experience: Enjoyable, appropriate to context and leading to skilled practice.
6. The biggest challenge for anyone who wants to dig into NUIs is understanding that you have to rethink the way we interact with a screen in order to understand the NUI paradigm, take advantage of its inner strengths, and create applications which are authentic to this new media.