The best interface is no interface

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Golden Krishna to discuss the future of user interface. A future that may well involve no interface at all.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This episode of the Boagworld show is sponsored by Media Temple and Fleep. Please support the show by checking them out.

Paul: Hello and welcome to the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name is Paul Boag, joining me as always is Marcus. Hello Marcus.

Marcus: Hello Paul, how are you?

Paul: I am very abrupt today aren’t I? I can tell.

Marcus: It’s because you’re trying to get this over and done with because then you’re going on holiday.

Paul: It could be something to do with that but it’s also because I think I’ve turned into a little bit of a fanboy and got a little overexcited, because today we have joining us Golden Krishna. Golden, how are you?

Golden: I’m doing great, thank you so much for having me on the show today.

Paul: Well as I was saying to you just before we started this call, the entire season has basically been leading up as an excuse to get you on the show.

Golden: You’re too nice.

Marcus: I have to bring a bit of balance here, I have to be nasty to you Golden.

Paul: You’ve no idea who Golden is or what he’s done have you?

Marcus: I looked him up before the show. I actually thought that book sounds interesting, I might buy it.

Paul: It really is worth buying, it is brilliant. So for those of you that don’t know, Golden has written a superb book that I highly recommend called The Best Interface is No Interface. The reason it’s such a good book is not only is it a really interesting subject, not only is it the kind of thing that is written with this very dry sense of humour that made me laugh out loud on several occasions, but best of all it’s the kind of book that will pierce a lot of people off, which I always think is a great basis for anything. If it annoys people it must be good.

Golden: I used to write a lot of blog posts and if I only got positive comments I felt like I was doing something wrong.

Paul: Yes you’ve got to annoy the internets, otherwise it’s not happening, you’re not doing it right. So Golden, tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your background and where are you now and what are you doing?

Golden: Sure, I am a User Experience Designer and I think what’s funny about saying that title to the everyday person that just sounds like bullshit. What’s so funny about those three words is that I am here to advocate for that everyday person, I do everything I can to understand their common everyday problems and I try to use technology to solve them in the most delightful and efficient ways I think we can. I started my career working at Cooper which they design consultancy here in San Francisco where we solve problems for customers of start-ups and Fortune 50 companies and then I went to work for an R&D lab at Samsung and we created new products and services for the electronics giant to solve people’s problems. Most recently I worked as an R&D lab where we created new experiences to solve our problems there and now actually at the end of this month and this is something that I haven’t even updated my LinkedIn about yet—this is breaking news here—

Paul: We like exclusives.

Golden: I’m going to be heading over to Google to work on the future of android and solve every day people’s problems there. So that’s a really exciting next step for me.

Paul: Google just swallows any decent talent, don’t they? Google and Facebook and maybe Twitter.

Golden: They are very good at it, they are very convincing.

Paul: Google is notoriously difficult to get a job with as well, don’t you have to go through about 300 interviews?

Golden: That’s about right. I think maybe 400 actually.

Paul: It’s because they have this very collaborative environment isn’t it, so everybody has to be involved in the interviewing process.

Golden: They try to remove all the bias from the hiring process, it is a very unusual process and there were so many people there, that they can pull in people who don’t even know each other to interview together on a panel, which is kind of crazy.

Paul: It’s going to be quite interesting because traditionally Google have been weak from the user experience side of things, or the user interface side of things. But they’ve made huge steps forwards recently, in the last few years. But also then you’ve got added to that your unique approach to user experience, which is a lot more user interface design so I can imagine how that is going to fit in quite nicely in Google. I can see the appeal for you.

Golden: They are historically an engineering company but you are seeing a real shift in design leadership in the company and I think that has really convinced me as well as the ability to do so much an enormous scale. The talent there, to do the kinds of things that will be talking about on the show, which are really important topics and I can’t wait to dive into them, I think the show will be pretty fascinating, but I think there is the ability at that company and they are certainly not alone in this, to start executing some of these futuristic user experiences that are just around the corner.

Paul: I think be very interesting to see what you get up to Google, if we ever get to know.

Marcus: We probably won’t be able to know.

Paul: Me and Golden are like that now, I’m sure he’ll give me the inside track.

Golden: Give me a year, give me two years maybe.

Paul: I’ll hold you to that. The people that don’t know tell us a little bit about this book that I picked up so hugely on both Twitter and the show. What’s the central premise of the book?

Golden: It doesn’t really take a lot of crazy insight to look around and see that we are drowning in screens. In the United States to spend about two hours a day looking at a screen, teenagers who are mostly in school spend about 7 ½ hours looking at a screen and adults, going to the most recent studies in the US, spent about eight hours a day looking at a screen. And it’s crazy. Some people want to blame the teenager at the dinner table who is staring at her phone, but I blame the makers. I think we’re stuck with this poor methodology of screen-based thinking, trying to solve everyone’s problems by using screens and so were ending up in this world when you are drowning in screens. I think if you look back in history it wasn’t that long ago that our lives were filled with paper and there were people the dreams of a paperless world. Now our lives are filled in screens and I think we should dream of a screen less world. I actually think that the best graphical user interface is no interface and that’s what I wrote my book about, how and why we should build this screen less world.

Paul: Unsurprisingly may be that ruffled a few feathers amongst user interface designers? I like the fact that in your book you had this whole chapter dedicated to dealing with all of the things that people have said to you about this suggestion.

Golden: Yes, absolutely. There is not enough pages to describe the reactions to the book. But I picked the top eight and I put them in there.

Marcus: I must read this book. I haven’t read this book so I’m a bit baffled I guess.

Paul: Give Marcus some examples of scenarios that show this off.

Marcus: What current app or screen-based thing would be better if it wasn’t screen based?

Golden: There’s a start-up that I’ve mentioned in the book called Lockitron and we’ve been obsessed with

Paul: You’ve got one of those coming Marcus. Before I left Headscape I ordered a Lockitron for Headscape, so one day it will appear. Sorry carry on.

Golden: Just like any company in recent years they’ve tried to solve a problem by making an app for that. The problem they were trying to solve is a pretty straightforward problem, a pretty easy problem of people forgetting and losing their keys. So they’ve made this cover that goes over a dead bolt and they made this app that has these two giant buttons, an unlock button and a lock button. So you walk up to your door and you press this unlock or lock button and the door opens. And you think this is a wonderful screen-based solution, but then you look at the UI of it and you see these two buttons and see that it’s very straightforward. But when you look at this user experience and start delving into what’s really happening, what’s really happening is something like this. You walk up to the door, you want to open the door so you pull out your phone. You want to open your door see press the week button to wake up your phone. You want to open your door see press your thumb print to unlock your phone. You want open your door so you press the home button to exit the last open app. You want open your door so you the home button to exit your last open group. You want open your door so you swipe for your icons trying to find the Lockitron app. You want open your door so you tap the Lockitron app to launch it. You want open your door see wait for the Lockitron app to load. You want open your door so you hit the unlock button on the Lockitron app. You want open your door so finally you open your door.

And that is complicated.

Marcus: Well as taking the key out of your pocket isn’t.

Golden: It isn’t.

Paul: And so are you glad I bought this for you Marcus?

Golden: That was Lockitron’s first generation. And then they looked at it and thought, can we get rid of the graphical user interface? And they had heard a little bit about what I was talking about and they tried to eliminate all of these steps. Can we embrace a typical process where someone is walking up to their door and just want open it. Can we do that? Can we eliminate a screen? What they did was put a Bluetooth radio into their dead bolt cover and they activated Bluetooth in their app. And when you walk up to the door the deadbolt just opens when you are within a 2 foot of the deadbolt and so it embraces your typical process. So they shifted the thinking from looking at it like we need to make an app we need to draw all these wireframes in screens, to looking at the user experience and trying to figure out how they can make that the most efficient, elegant thing. So they embraced this idea of the best interface is no interface.

Paul: Which is just brilliant. The other one you give which is very similar, is the BMW one when they replaced the key with an app again and you have to go through this ridiculous process to get in your car.

Marcus: Okay, I’m sold. Over complicating stuff just because you can get on your iPhone does annoy me. Apple pay annoys me a bit for that reason. It’s like I’ll just give the guy some money.

Paul: But also the thing with Apple pay, because I’m quite opinionated on Apple pay is that it makes much more sense, Apple pay in America than it does here in Europe. Because in Europe we have Chip and Pin already and we have Contactless with our cards.

Marcus: That’s true.

Paul: And so you basically wave a card over something rather than waving your phone over something and you don’t need to do touch ID with it. You literally waste the card and you’re done. But in America, because they don’t have contactless to the same degree, then Apple pay makes little bit more sense over there.

Marcus: I’ve set it up but it’s basically in case I lose my wallet. That’s the only reason for it. I digress.

Golden: There is this part in the book where I talk about this idea, something like the low hanging fruit of this Best Interface is No Interface which I call back pocket apps. And by that I mean apps that work while they just sit in your pocket. This is where Lockitron falls into, it delights you because your phone just sits in your pocket you never have to remove it. We are so used to creating these addictive services that are buzzing and beeping and trying to get us to pull our phones out of our pockets, and we can get into that diction notion a little bit later, but I think there is something really fascinating about trying to make experiences that happen when you phone just sits in your pocket.

Speaking of Apple pay there’s this company called Square which is this payments company that has an experiment where you could turn on something called auto pay and you turn it on to the places where you frequent the most. When you walk up to the restaurant, when you are within 15 feet which is basically Bluetooth range, behind on your register your name and the most recent orders pop-up. And when you come up to the register when you are within that range, your photo pops up and so when it comes time to pay the person behind the register just its pay and sees your photo. They have the ability to delight you by saying would you like to order that cappuccino again or whatever drink you frequently order, and they can see that order history. You pay and you have the whole experience without ever taking your phone out of your pocket. It’s a wonderful back pocket app experience and there are couple of other examples if we want to dive into this theory. But I think that kind of notion, if you look at Apple pay, taking your phone out of your pocket and you are tapping on something, that feels is just as burdensome. But if you to do something where you just had your phone in your pocket and you were paying, that is new. That is different.

Paul: The one that I like that I got into at the moment is Mac ID. It’s basically a little app that you install on your Mac and on your iPhone and once the two are paired, whenever I walk up to my Mac it detects that my iPhone is close and uses that as an identifier and it unlocks my Mac for me. More importantly when I walk away from my Mac, if I forget to look at myself, it will look it automatically. So places like conferences of you accidentally left your Mac on the train or something like that you will know that that Mac is secure because you just walked away from it.

Golden: Brilliant.

Paul: I like that one.

Marcus: Goes to the app store.

Paul: I tell you what really would have annoyed you mind, Golden is Disney. He writes this wonderful book on no interface and then Disney releases their magic band which must have sent you round the twist.

Golden: One of the really hard things and a lot of people comment on when they talk about these ideas is that it’s so hard to predict context. I’ve given you two situations, one where you walk up to a cafe or restaurant and another way walk up to your door but so often, and this is really where home automation fails in general is figuring out someone’s context in all the things that are going on is really, really hard. But there is one place maybe in the whole world that absolutely curated and every moment that you know where someone is, and that’s Disney World. Every part of that experience is handcrafted and so for those guys, their barrier is contextual. That contextual barrier, this layer is very difficult for a lot of people to figure out when they think about these no interface solutions. For them, they know. And so for them it’s interesting that they, and they did it and it’s really nice to hear that people are so enthusiastic about it. I’m absolutely jealous and I wish of course that I was on that project, but it’s great to see it. On the other hand it’s fantastic to see people doing the things that I’ve been writing and talking about and to see it be such a big success for them. It gives it another reason why I think people should be considering this kind of thinking.

Paul: And it’s just the beginning, you can imagine for Disney. What they are doing at the moment is incredibly sophisticated, but you can imagine how it can be so much more. What I particularly like about the magic band the Disney is that it provides benefits for the user in terms of you can get into your hotel room with your magic band, you can pre-order food using your magic band, the fact that people recognise who you are as you walk up to them because they are seeing your face on a screen because it knows where you are, all of those things are great magical experiences for the user, delighted as you put it earlier. But it’s also incredibly powerful for Disney itself because they know where everybody is. They know traffic movements and how people are moving around the park in real time. They can put extra staff in certain places, they can begin to gather huge amounts of data about traffic movements at different times of the day. So it really is a win-win for everyone.

Golden: Absolutely. It’s huge. I mean camera detection on how people move is weak, it’s not that great but when you have people intentionally tapping of ID bands every moment where they are, that’s amazing. All of a sudden you have a heat map of everybody’s movements through the park. That’s really sophisticated data that they have on their hands.

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Discussion about the future of interface design

Paul: I just want to clarify something with you Golden over this because there will be some people listening to this and the premise of your book has a bit of a controversial title doesn’t it? The Best Interface is No Interface. It’s the kind of thing that is going to rile people, but you’re not suggesting that all interfaces should be replaced with some kind of automated system or sensor are you? There is still a role for user interfaces?

Golden: Look, I love great blog writing, I love great movies, I love to watch videos to stand-up comedy and I can’t imagine how those things would happen without a screen. I think there are these amazing and brilliant things that can happen when you have a liquid display but I think what’s important to understand is that there are huge opportunities to reduce the amount of screen time that is necessary in our lives. The Best Interface is No Interface is a design philosophy. It doesn’t mean that no Interface is the only solution, it just means that it is the best possible solution. Just like less is more isn’t always true, but less is more is a really nice modernist design philosophy. I mentioned earlier how people are checking their phones all the time and there was a study done in the UK earlier this year that the average smartphone user pulls their phone out of their pocket over 200 times a day. That’s crazy, right?

Marcus: That becomes exercise, surely?

Golden: We’ve fallen into this horrible pattern where making these potentially addictive interfaces that are buzzing and beeping for us to look at their products and services. I know as an industry we can do better. Good experience designers, instead of good screens should set a good experience. And good designers, no matter how many taps and clicks you can generate or how addicted you can get your customer, it’s about what I mentioned earlier about solving problems elegantly and efficiently. If the problem was trying to solve was to help people eat a bowl of soup, and I made a spoon where it took you three hours a day to either bowl of soup, it wouldn’t be a well-designed spoon. But if the problem trying to solve is the connect friends and I made a time sucking three-hour experience where you just filtered photos of their life I don’t think that would be well-designed either.

Paul: Well yes, I think that’s very true and another part of this is our perception of ourselves as designers. It was really funny right, part of the reason why I so loved your book was actually nothing to do with this idea of the Best Interface is no Interface. It was the way you framed the role of the designer. Because I trained as a graphic designer, because I’m that old and the web wasn’t around. I’ve worked in user interface design for the vast majority of my career but then I reached a point where I started to branch out from that and I started to do, because I was seeing that the use interfaces that I was creating were failing because of business requirements and governance issues and all these backend problems and so I started to move into that. And I change my name and I still keep this job title but a change my job title to User Experience Consultant as I didn’t feel I could use that word designer anymore because I wasn’t opening photo shop. But reading your book has kind of made me realise that I am still a designer, I am still designing user experiences because I’m solving the problems that damage and create a bad user experience. And I think that was one of the big take a ways from the book for me, was this idea that we have a very narrow view of what a designer is. Does that make sense?

Golden: Absolutely, there was a chapter in the book where I have a set of job listings from some of the top technology companies and they advertise for these UX/UI roles. You see this all the time, people talk about being a UX/UI designer but user experience, looking at the larger story that I gave about Lockitron earlier and user interface design which is making all the individual components on a screen and it’s really important job, are very distinct things. And when you confuse solving people’s problems with this larger notion of UX and having empathy and doing customer research, all those things and user interface design which is drawing screens then you make it all of the sudden summons job solve problems with screens. And that’s not a great thing. So when we conflict the two things it leads us down this strange path.

Paul: That’s all well and good that’s big ask of a lot of designers isn’t it? Because I’m thinking about say, Ed that Headscape Marcus, who is a superb user interface designer. But was suddenly asking him to understand, to start thinking about areas that are quite highly technical, some of them, when you start talking about sensors and automation and that kind of stuff, you really are asking people to move out of their comfort zone, aren’t you?

Marcus: I think what Golden is saying is that he should carry on being a UI designer because he’s not a UX designer and the two shouldn’t necessarily be confused. And that UX designers do need to know about more than just screens and things like that, whereas a UI designer, it is their job to design the screens. And there is a confusion there that shouldn’t be.

Paul: Is that a fair comment?

Golden: Yes I think so. Yes absolutely. There was a time when I talked about this idea at a conference here in Portland and afterwards there was this young designer that came up to me and said he really liked the talk but that he hopes that I fail. And he said that because he said if I’m right then he doesn’t know what is going to be doing for a living. And what I told him, and I think this is absolutely true when you’re a designer in technology, you always going to need to be growing and adapting and changing. What we do today is not what we’re going to be doing tomorrow, I can guarantee that. I don’t know exactly what it will be but I’d love it for it to be things that I talked about in this book. The companies, the processes, the tools, they are always changing with technology. But I think there are some fundamental things don’t change and I think even though I’m talking about how you execute something being radically different, I think the way you start, if you are a user experience professional, is actually quite similar. It’s about understanding customers, observing and understanding their goals and if you’re more of a business end, you’re outlining those metrics of success and at the creative end you getting inspiration. I think the starting phase, it doesn’t change. It’s the next stage that changes I think, instead of drawing what I call a lazy rectangle is a representation of the screen and trying to solve everyone’s problems inside that rectangle. How big is the logo? Where does the navigation go? And just starting to think about these common patterns and libraries than thinking about specific problem, and that second step is where things are bit different. But the deliverables there what I’ve been doing are not that crazy. I’ve been doing customer journey maps so we look at people and the context of the situation. I’m setting up the personas and when I come up with solutions, the testing is very similar. You’re making prototypes and sitting in front of people. Just because I described that Lockitron experience, even though we mentioned the Disney band experience, you can prototype that, you can have a paper band around someone’s wrist and can observe customers and users to see what’s happening. Those things don’t change, what changes for me when you take this on is that you change that second step will stop that moment we go to the whiteboard and instead of drawing a rectangle you start to draw people and places and understand the context and try to figure out what’s going on in that situation. And then you try to employ other tools and maybe you, as a designer don’t even need to know exactly all of that, maybe you have a person in the room who understands those sensors better, a mechanical engineer or someone who is not normally part of our design process. Maybe you have a data scientist in the room who is able to come up with some solution. So maybe the end solution is not a screen, how you would historically think about it maybe is employing these other people to be part of our teams who help come up with those solutions. But as a designer it’s all about solving problems and empathy and that doesn’t change ever. I think the tools change, the eventual execution changes but not the role of being a user experience designer.

Paul: Do you think it comes down to the fact that we’ve been quite relatively isolated in our roles? We call ourselves UX/UI designers so we do the whole research and discovery phase, we map a user journey and then we go away and we build our user interface and maybe have an occasional conversation with a developer or a content person, but we’re largely self-contained. While, because this is going to involve areas that were not so knowledgeable about, it’s going to be much broader. True UX design is much broader, we will have to collaborate a lot more. Do you think that is potentially a barrier people’s minds, making that adjustment?

Golden: Yes, I’m talking about a different kind of team when I mention these kinds of things. And I try to put together all sorts of packets and toolkits to the people can understand sensors better but at the end of the day having an expert in those things is enormous, it makes a big difference. But it wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to make an app that was a big barrier. It wasn’t even that long ago that companies would say things to you like, oh we are not a new media company, and we don’t need a website. And that sounds completely insane now.

A few weeks ago was talking to an older designer and he was telling me how graphical user interfaces first came out and everybody was thinking that the idea of having someone in your company whose drawing icons and figuring out colour palettes, was insane. That was just such a waste of resources, they should just do everything in command line. And so this is part of that evolution I think, when you are introducing new kinds of roles, that’s wonderful, that’s great. I’m mentioning things like data scientists who we all know can do great and amazing things are just aren’t part of the design process, but should be. They shouldn’t just be running analytics on something after it happens but it can be part of something proactively before and while we come up with a solution for something. That’s a very different way, but is a better way of utilising the resources that are out there actually. I’m not inventing something that doesn’t exist, these are people that are out there in the professional world and are already working in technology today.

Paul: Where do I start going to learn about this because I’m really interested what is possible and what is not. I’ve read your book and you give some great examples in there, but I’m still not entirely clear in my mind about what could be done, what can be done. Because that’s half the battle isn’t it, that kind of realising what potential there is. We fall back on user interfaces because we know that’s possible.

Golden: Absolutely. It’s not a crazy idea and it doesn’t take that much resource. Take 20 minutes and think, can we solve this without a user interface? I mentioned that example walking up to your door etc. and that was their first generation project. I wasn’t in the room but if you just took a gander at it and drew out a person, we so often look at wireframes and stills on the wall without people, without context. And we look at these situations and it totally throws off and biases the whole thing because you do something where you show a client 50 screens. Let’s say you’re trying to do signup process and you show a client 50 screens and they say this is brilliant. 50 screens? You guys been working so hard, this is unbelievable. And let’s say instead you had a more elegant solution, you had more no interface solution and you show them one screen. If you show them one instead of the 50 they ask what you have been doing. I think that kind of take on it doesn’t work. One of the tools that I’ve been employing with users is video. I used to do a lot of deep user research when I worked at Cooper and one of things I learnt was that when you write quotes of what people are saying, you should show photos and they’re not nearly as powerful as showing video when you show someone saying it or show someone in that situation.

So what I’ve been doing in these experiences that I’ve been reducing down or even eliminating interfaces, I show video of someone in the signup process. So you say, here’s someone setting up. And they are there and you see the person and you watch two minutes of this video and then you say here’s what we could do. And its four seconds. And that is lost. I think when we have a normal deliverables we change the way we look at it and we spend a little bit of time looking at it and we spend a little bit of time considering what it would be like if there were less, or how we could even do that, it’s definitely worth pursuing or even just trying. You can’t always do it but it’s worth seeing if you can do it.

Paul: We talked about the cultural or mental shift that we need to make as designers but is there an element of that for the user as well? There is a fine line isn’t there between delighting them with a very simple solution and freaking them out because it’s almost eerily disturbing.

Marcus: Big Brother like.

Paul: Yes.

Golden: One of the industries that started to delve into this and there are some start-ups who are doing this no interface thinking which I think is a fascinating thing. And one of the industries that is really great at advertising for the stuff and has been doing some no interface thinking the last few years is car companies. In the automotive space you can do so much. Car companies are also veering down this awful path of creating these 17 inch touch screen centre consoles because I would rather touch screen and driver car I guess? But at the same time there are other people in this industry doing some really neat things. You have the LED lights that blink on the side mirrors when you are about to hit somebody in your blind spot. You have cars now that can detect if the car in front of you has stopped. The car itself hits the brakes to try to pre-emptively prevent a car accident. There are all sorts of crazy things that cause are now doing which are a bit shocking at first.

There are some more simple examples. Ford has this trunk, this liftgate where if your hands are full, you kick near the bumper and the trunk door opens. So on big SUVs and minivans see this liftgate open and the whole idea is that you are carrying all these things and you can’t pull your phone out of your pocket and do all the steps and jump to an app to unlock the trunk or even get your keys, and there are definitely plenty of people making these apps to unlock your trunk by putting sensors in place. But what Ford did was research and they thought, okay, they put things in people’s hands and they said open the trunk. And people reached out with their foot. And they thought that’s it. We need to create something that when you kick your foot out, the trunk opens. And it’s weird, this is unusual, you don’t necessarily expect that. It feels like magic. It’s definitely unexpected, but if you can do it in a way that doesn’t feel creepy, where you’re trying to solve people’s problems in a way that does feel like its magic and doesn’t feel like it’s creepy, that’s that fine line. Even today you can argue that a notification suggests something to you or Google now can feel a bit creepy, but people get used to it, the more we see it.

Paul: Is about exposure really isn’t it?

Golden: I think the first movers have had that burden, but as we adopt this thinking it’s just nice, it’s efficient and it works when it needs to be working.

Paul: That’s an interesting point. It works when it needs to be working. I couldn’t have got more excited about your book but the thing that did go through my head is that a lot of these automation systems don’t always have the best track record for accuracy. Whether it be if you were three different step counters on your wrist, it will give you three different numbers or you ask Siri something and it responds with something completely different, while an interface, a user interface feels much more of a controlled system. You know where you’re standing, it feels more trustworthy. Do you think that’s a legitimate concern, or am I just getting old?

Golden: It’s an absolutely a legitimate concern. There were two big things to think about in automation. The first is don’t automate things that people love to do. If I can automate cooking, if I can create some amazing machine that cooks your favourite meal every day, I think the most people that would sound fantastic. But if you love cooking and that’s where you get pleasure and enjoyment, the whole point of this no UI experiences to give you the time to do the things that you really want to do. So you wouldn’t want to eliminate the things that people really enjoy doing. In the US, automatic transmission, I think this is one of the craziest automated experiences. You’re driving in a car, you on a highway and in this incredibly dangerous situation and you have this automatic gear shifting machine next to you. That’s crazy, right? But it’s really popular. That’s automation, but it’s really popular here in the US. Something in the order of 90% of new cars have automatic transmission but there are people elsewhere in the world who really enjoy and love the idea of shifting gears in driving their car.

Paul: They’re stupid people! It’s so difficult over here to get an automated car, it’s just ridiculous.

Marcus: I drive an auto.

Paul: Do you really?

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: If you buy new, then it’s easier, but it’s quite hard to get automatic cars in comparison to America.

Marcus: I’ve got a big car, big cars tend to have them (Transcriber edit: So does my Vauxhall Astra!) while smaller cars don’t. But yes in the States, even the smaller cars do.

Paul: Yes, and cruise control. Everything has cruise control in the States as well. And that’s more than optional extra over here. But that’s beside the point.

Golden: I don’t know exactly why, maybe there’s some emissions regulations or whatnot but I think it’s because there are enough people who enjoy driving and so it’s less popular there. But the main point you’re raising is what happens when these things fail? What happens when these things start falling apart? How do we control that?

One thing I’ve seen people do that I think is really fascinating is to go down this path of automating these experiences and trying to shortcut things is that they are moving the graphical user interface from the primary experience to the secondary experience. There are some really simple examples. There is this headlamp company called Petzl. Petzl makes a lot of headlamps, and they make one that automatically adjusts the amount of light that comes out of your headlamp and that’s really popular with people who do cave search and rescue. They go into these caves which are deep and dark and they look into them and it’s really bright but the carry these maps with them and so they look at the maps and hold them up to the light it completely whitewashes. So they made these headlamps that sees that there are these objects here and the lights dims. And it’s really nice because you’re holding these ropes and you don’t want to be fiddling around with your headlamp. And it’s so quick and it’s so fast, it’s really just one simple computer and a tiny microchip, it’s not that sophisticated. But it’s really popular for that reason, is an automatic solution.

But that headlamp comes with a piece of software, and you can adjust all of the automatic settings if you don’t like them. And so you shift the graphical user interface from primary, all things you’d have to do, if they made a smart phone app that you had to pull out of your pocket while you’re trying to do cave search and rescue that just doesn’t work. So in that context when you shifted from the primary and you move it to the secondary where it’s more of an adjustment, it’s more the settings.

You also see this primary to secondary on the Nest thermostat, which really surprises and delights people when it automatically understands when you are at home and when you are not. But it also has that joint dial on it so you can adjust it. But the whole point of Nest is that you’re not going up and adjusting it all the time, you’re rarely adjusting it, and you’re rarely interacting with it. But it’s there as a secondary experience.

I think that’s a hybrid moment. We not going to go from cars with gasoline to all cars being electric. That’s not going to work because the infrastructure is not in place and it’s too shocking, almost what you were referring to earlier. So we get hybrid cars, we get this middle step and I think that’s what’s happening when I see a lot of people executing this. There is an interface, it’s there but it’s not what you’re interacting with every day, is there only if you need it.

Paul: There’s another really good example of that actually which is similar to Nest, which is a smart thermostat over here in Europe called Tado, which I have in my house and with that one, unlike the Nest, it doesn’t work out your routine, what it does is that it’s a back pocket app again. So if I have my phone and I leave the house, it turns the heating off. So it’s that kind of thing, but again if there is somebody coming to stay in the house and you leave the house and it turns the heating off and they get cold, you can use the app. You can get the app out of your pocket and use it as a secondary method to keep heating on when I go out. So I see what you mean, that secondary role. I like that a lot, that makes a lot of sense to me.

Marcus: Just going to go back to 1 point, as it’s just occurred to me. This is about the door lock one, when you come back and you’ve been out all night and your phone has died, what’s the backup on that?

Golden: Can’t remember everything of that of my head but you can do a couple of things, one thing you can do is that you can set up other people who have permission to unlock your door. So you can do that in advance, it’s almost like having a backup key but I think the reason why they set up that was actually to help people who have Air B & B, so without giving your actual key, you can give temporary access to someone which I think is pretty fascinating. I believe they’ve also set up a number that you can text and will ask you some questions you can go through but I’m not exactly sure about that second case but it’s a good question. If we rely on our phones to do everything and the phone dies, we are without our key to the world. So that’s definitely a burden. I would tell you to carry an extra battery pack!

Paul: You could quite easily lose a key of course, so in that sense it’s no worse. Also because Lockitron keep emailing me, they are also now providing a keypad to go with it as well if you want so there is a keypad full-back as well which would get around the problem. I’ve got one last question for you before we wrap up, although again as I say this every week, I can carry on talking about this forever. There will be people listening to this that are going yes, this is great but they’ve got to convince managers or clients or other people to think about things differently. To look at automation. And so many managers or clients, it’s easy to convince them to have a new app or a new site, that’s in their traditional thinking, is how they view the world. So how do you get these kinds of people to think in these kinds of ways, to consider these other options? You must have faced that time and again in your career?

Golden: Oh absolutely, I think the first time I ever talked about this somebody said, I’m a marketer and I have all these different assets, of phones from different angles and people holding these phones on the streets and it works so perfectly. I have no idea how I would advertise for these screen less experiences. How could you possibly do it?

Paul: It’s impossible.

Golden: I didn’t have a great answer for him that was something that was funny, that I didn’t ever anticipate. How do you create adverts for something that isn’t there? That’s why think some the car example is a really interesting because car companies are amazing at advertising, they spend a lot of money on it and that’s one amazing output but how do you convince people? I mentioned earlier customer journey maps and I think that’s a great starting point. I think videos which is another thing I’ve mentioned which is another great outcome. Certainly without a doubt when you say this to somebody, this is new and different thinking and it’s going to be a little bit shocking, but I do think over time it will become less and less shocking. One thing I am really excited about is over the course of this year I have seen a number of start-ups who have been starting to embrace this idea. So if the videos aren’t working, the journey maps aren’t working, the idea that we are evolving and at one point we couldn’t convince anyone of apps and we couldn’t convince anyone of websites and now you need to convince them of this new approach, if none of those things are working for you there are other things I think that are extremely powerful. One is experiencing it, like actually experiencing the prototype and experiencing what this actually feels like, is really wonderful. But you are single the start-ups, like Lockitron for example, and I don’t keep drilling this example but one thing that’s nice about it is that after they showed the video of the snow interface experience it generated about $2 million on kick starter which is pretty good for a door lock. And they are not alone.

So who else is doing it more interesting things are more complicated things? There is a start-up called Digit and what they do is they plug into your checking account and what they are trying to solve is that most people are terrible in the Western world of having a decent savings account. In the US the average person doesn’t save 30 days’ worth of income, which is crazy. We are terrible. So what Digit is it plugs into your checking account, they see how your spending money and they start shifting that money to a savings account that they create and they get more and more aggressive about it over time so you have a bigger savings account and you don’t have to do anything. It’s all magic, it all works in the background and in order to interact with Digit, they don’t even have an app. You can text them and they will text you back. There are people who will just text you back and forth the customer service. And it’s great but it all works in the background. And the reason I bring up this case and the reason I can bring up another couple of start-ups this year who are doing some really great and interesting work around this is because the more success those guys have, it helps you also build a business case to say, hey look this isn’t just some crazy idea. We can’t convince you through these journey maps all these videos or the evolution of these prototypes, you can also make business case around it and say these experiences, and the stickiness of these kind of experiences is incredible. When you intentionally have to use something every day and it creates a burden in your life, you might want to leave that for a more efficient or popular service. Facebook is under attack every day by new social networks that could be launched, like Ello and all of a sudden all these people are going to move over to Ello. So what Facebook does is they try to do all sorts of things to get you hooked to their experience.

But one way to get customers loyal is to solve their problems in the most wonderful way possible, and that’s having nothing there. So I think you’re starting to see some start-ups are not at companies, because it’s hard to change the dynamic of the team, it’s hard to change these methodologies. We’ve been making these screens essentially the same way since the early 80s and even though now we can touches to the just clicking is essentially the same window, the same iconography. And we’ve gotten really good at these processes as we taught them at school, we’ve evaluate people based on these processes while they deliver these screens. But changing it is hard and institutionally changing that is really hard in a big place, but in a small start-up when they can just start in this new way of thinking, they can embrace these ideas and that’s what’s really exciting to me, it is seeing start-ups do it. But to answer your question, when you see that success, that $2 million of the idea that Digit is accumulating users and when they release numbers it’s really interesting. And there are other start-ups that are doing similar kind of things. When you see that bubbling up, that loyalty is what every company would want and that alone is very convincing to the C suite. Maybe the other designers are into this idea but when you tell the C suite, hey look the number of clicks is going to be actually zero, which is crazy because your stock price might be glued to the number of clicks and number of monthly active users and how annoying we can be in your pocket so they use our service. But we’re going to have hundred million people who use it and love it. That’s a mind shift and that’s incredible. Loyalty comes from delivering great experiences and that’s what this is really going after.

Paul: I absolutely agree and referring to case studies of people that are doing it well is always a great way. When you can even point to major car manufacturers or Disney who are investing in this, that certainly helps usually.

Golden, that’s absolutely incredible stuff, is a fascinating thing and I highly recommend you get Golden’s book if you have an opportunity. The Best Interface is No Interface is a great read, it’s an amusing and fun read as well which always helps and I did laugh out loud on several occasions.


Paul: Before we wrap up this week do just want to mention our second sponsor which is Fleep. The best way of describing Fleep is as an alternative to Slack. Now you might be saying to yourself why the hell do I need an alternative to Slack? Slack is awesome, but is it though? I’m actually quite a big fan of Slack and I use it and actually I will be mentioning Slack in a few moments but it does have its limitations. Especially if you are a freelancer or you work in an agency and you work with a lot of clients. Slack only goes so far. Because Slack requires your clients to adopt your system, if that makes sense. It requires them to start using Slack. It requires them to learn a new interface, as we’ve been talking about today. But Fleep, basically clients can use Fleep just with email. They carry on using email like they always have and you get to manage it via Fleep but here’s another really good thing about Slack. One of the most frustrating things about using Slack if you are working with multiple clients on multiple projects is switching constantly between channels. It’s really quite poor in Slack, that transition of flipping between channels. But Fleep doesn’t have that. You can work directly with multiple clients, multiple projects, multiple teams, side-by-side, all at the same time. And that makes Fleep absolutely ideal for freelancers working with clients. Far, far better than Slack in that regard. They’ve also just launched a beautiful redesign of all their tools – the Mac app, the smart phone app etc. see you can try it out by going to

Marcus: Slack and clients should never go together anyway. Not our Slack channel anyway!

Paul: No, definitely not. I’ve seen what Headscape write in their Slack channel. It’s not for public consumption.

So Golden, you need to know something about this podcast. We got into the stupid tradition of Marcus doing a joke at the end of each show. You just have to pretend to laugh. So Marcus?

Marcus: This is a good joke, this is a good one because I think I’ve said it before and I’ve done all the good ones.

Paul: You’ve done all the good jokes in the world.

Marcus: I don’t know when though. It was probably 10 years ago so I think we will get away with it again.

I met a Dutch girl with inflatable shoes last week. I phoned her up to arrange a date but unfortunately she’d popped her clogs.

Paul: Yes that’s as much as you are going to get. I remember you telling that one before.

Marcus: Is popped her clogs a US term? Do you know what that means?

Golden: No.

Paul: Ahh, there you go, wasted.

Marcus: If you die, you pop your clogs. It’s an affectionate term the dying.

Paul: We’re a weird nation now you think about it. Anyway Golden thank you so much for coming on the show, really, really interesting subject. If people are interested in continuing to talk about the topics from the season as a whole, I have now started a Slack channel. See Slack is good for that kind of thing, which is for groups of people coming together and chatting stuff over. So if you go to or you can get an invite or you can just email me at and I will invite you into the Slack channel. Is turning it be really nice community of people chatting about user experience type stuff, so definitely check that out.

Next week we’re going to be looking at how UX, user experience is becoming one of the most powerful marketing tools you can have out there. Instead of just broadcasting your message to the world, now you can provide a delightful user experience and your customers will promote your service for you. So that’s what we’re going to look at next week.

But for now, a huge thanks Golden and good luck with the job move.

Golden: Thank you guys, is really been fantastic to chat about this. I feel we could hours, there’s a lot here in this topic and I hope that people find something useful out of it.

Paul: I am sure they will. I’m a huge fan of it. I’m desperate now to crowbar it in to a project that I can play around with automated back pocket apps and that kind of thing.

Thank you guys so much for listening to this week’s show, I hope you found it useful and join us again next week when we talk about UX and marketing, but for now, goodbye.