The UI Unicorn

by Simon Dudley

The overdue death of the “Intuitive UI” Unicorn

Over the last 30 years I’ve been in the IT world I’ve seen dozens of “intuitive UI’s” on everything from Fax machines to Telepresence systems. They all looked different, they all needed someone to go into some considerable detail on how they worked, and they weren’t remotely intuitive. UI’s are like jokes, if you have to explain them they aren’t very good.

You know, how I know that?


Because NOTHING is intuitive!!!

In research it has been proven that even seemingly self evident technology like a door handle isn’t obvious if you’ve never seen it before. The IT industry is obsessed with the idea of easy to use. The only UI that is intuitive is one you already know. In other words familiarity is what matters, not something easy to learn but something you’ve already experienced.

When I was first involved in the VC industry the UI enabled a whole six characters to input the name of the site (Thank you PictureTel Concorde). As generation after generation of devices came out the technology became more sophisticated.


More buttons bitches

The UI had more buttons, more options, was higher resolution, it was color, it was even in spoke to you on occasion, but I never noticed users suddenly having the scales fall from their eyes and leaping to take control of the meetings with a surge of confidence. All these user interfaces, however fancy, however nicely produced, however colorful, simply weren’t familiar.

Dead fish, hot potatoes and exploding technology

Every time I spoke to and trained a client I could see from the user’s eyes, that come the next meeting the remote control was going to become either a dead fish or the hottest of hot potatoes. No one wanted to touch it, or if forced to it was quickly thrown to someone else to deal with.

One of the continuing problems with VC technology is that no one wants to be the one who burns the building down by pressing the wrong button. I should say for the record most modern systems won’t detonate if used incorrectly, but you try convincing users of that.

Of course none of this is remotely conducive to mass adoption of the technology. Until the technology is so easy to use that people would rather use it than drive for an hour we, as an industry, have a problem.


Minority report

For years VC manufacturers have attempted to produce the UI experience that will finally convince users that they should try it. I have come to the conclusion that is is the wrong answer. Users don’t want your UI, they don’t want to be Tom Cruise in the Minority report being ever so clever with a sheet of glass, some cool gloves and a wild stare. All they want is something that they are familiar with. Give them the exact same UI as they use every single day on their laptop, tablet, or phone.

It’s not flashy, there’s no weird gloves, but it works, they aren’t scared of it and they can slickly use the mouse because they have practised for years placing the red seven on the black eight in a thousand boring status update meetings.


Go big or go home

What users crave when they walk into a meeting room is the ability to Go big. They want the personal experience just for a larger audience.The familiarity of the laptop experience, which they have been secretly practising with their mate from accounts, coupled simply with the ability to have numerous colleagues at both ends of the call with large screens, good quality cameras and room spanning audio technology gets the job done.
We as an industry have to start to understand that the vast majority of our clients are not Mr Cruise. They are simply people wanting to do their job while utilising some technology enabling them to do it from anywhere. Solve that problem and we just might have a chance to fill the 96% of meeting spaces that presently don’t have Video Communications of any type.

In the meantime can we go on a Unicorn Cull please.