Monday, January 5, 2009

The Natural User Interface Revolution

First, there were Command-Line Interfaces. That worked well for a while, but when computing power grew, so did application requirements and user demands. The CLI was replaced, for all intents and purposes, by the Graphical User Interface. Everyday users (both professional and consumer) began using the GUI rather than the CLI as the primary interface to the computer. The CLI is still around, since it is still good for certain, specialized tasks, but most of those tasks could also be done using the GUI, if necessary.

We are on the verge of a similar revolution -- from GUI to Natural User Interface. Similar to the CLI to GUI transition, we're at a point where computing power and expectations have grown. The way we think about how we interact with computer will have to change. GUI will still be around, but it may be relegated to specialized tasks, similar to CLU. It will not be a sudden transition. There are already NUI interfaces out there, but we may not recognize them since they work so well. The only way we know we are in the NUI era is to reflect on the history of interfaces and analyze the attributes and trends of current interface design.
Let us reflect.







Prompt, Command and arguments, Result

Single task, Single user, Command oriented, Keyboard input


Papers arranged on a desk

Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer (WIMP)

Multi-task, Single user, Task oriented, Keyboard + Mouse input


Objects, Containers, Gestures, Manipulations (OCGM)
Multi-task, Multi-user, Object oriented, Touch input

There are some variations (GUI could be object oriented, NUI doesn't have to be multi-user) but this table identifies the general trends.

As for the elements of a NUI -- that is still up for debate. Jonathan Brill has suggested Places, Animations, Things, and Auras as the core elements of NUI. I'm still thinking about those. Update 3/1/2010: I have decided to support OCGM as the core elements of NUI.

It isn't really up to us to decide in advance, though. The successful NUI applications will have some common features that over time we will be able to identify. That is part of what I hope to do on this blog: Deconstruct NUI interfaces (particular demo videos), analyze the elements to see what works and what doesn't, and track NUI trends as they evolve.


  1. Hi Joshua, I would like to cite your table (I'm considering to use it). What's the best reference for this citation?

    Thanks in advance.
    Wallace Ugulino

    1. Ugulino,

      Use whatever style guidance you're using to reference this blog.