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Zero UI: The Most Natural Way of Building Product User Interfaces

Zero UI is a new buzzword that's likely to catch on in the near future. While it's not yet a common trend in UI design, let's see what it is and how it'll change the way product user interfaces are built these days.

What is Zero UI?

The term was first coined by Andy Goodman (@goodmania), designer at Fjord. It can be best described as follows:

Zero UI design is design of invisible interfaces.

When we refer to design or interface within Zero UI, we don't actually mean web design, but we do mean something pertaining to product or industrial design. In short, that's part of a product engineering design that requires skills in inventive design rather than mere web UI design.

Zero UI is characterized by two main features:

No Graphical User Interface (GUI)

Devices that are designed and manufactured for daily routine use have evolved significantly as far as levers, physical buttons, machine code, command line, graphic interface and touchscreen are concerned. The latter technology is being truly revolutionary, as it is able to eliminate one more intermediary in machine to human interaction, i.e. a mouse and a keyboard. Yet, all interfaces are still speaking in machine, not completely human language. GUI remains as it is both on a PC screen and on a touchscreen of any device. It doesn't change in essence, nor are their any serious changes with regards to usability.

Zero UI is the most natural way of managing your device. In short, it's a touchless technology, or interface without the interface. Some of today's most famous examples of Zero UI based products are Microsoft Kinect and Apple Siri, i.e. gesture and language recognition technologies.

Preemptive technologies

The absence of the visual part of the interface is just a tip of the Zero UI iceberg. The hidden part envisions that the device recognizes user wishes and, thus, fulfills most of actions that had previously been required from a user. Of course, there's no magic involved and everything can be explained with the streamlined adoption of Big Data, personalization and machine learning. Smart thermostat Google Nest remembers lifestyle of all tenants, and determines when they come and leave to fully automate heat supplies and management. In addition, Nest features a regular touch interface for manual configuration and setup.

Why Zero UI?

I've reviewed some of the technology and design prerequisites for emergence of Zero UI.

Technologies Design
Voice recognition (Siri, Microsoft Cortana) Interface minimalism
Gesture recognition (Microsoft Kinect) Material design
Microgesture tech (Leap Motion) Reduction of variability
Face localization in images and video Packaged software solutions (website / app builders)
Faces, fingerprints recognition Multi-platform design
Wireless energy supply Seamless UX (user can choose a product on a tablet,
purchase it on PC and get a push notification to confirm purchase)
Internet of Things (Google Nest)
VR and AR
Big Data, deep learning, personalization

Zero UI became possible due to the fact that it became possible to manage devices without any intermediary controllers and use advanced data analytics for preemptive interfaces. In its turn, the value of design as a graphic art has decreased due to the availability of typical packaged solutions. Omni-platform orientation drove up development of smarter design solutions and increased the value of data analytics.


But isn't it what happened many years ago when such new terms as usability and UX first emerged and rushed in web design space? Not really, so let's see how Zero UI affects web design in general.

How Zero UI Changes Web Design

First and foremost, Zero UI is based on contactless management and predictiveness. Its goal is to foresee or guess what user is going to do now and move him/her to the center of user scenario right away. So, what's the difference between web UI design and Zero UI design? In the first case, a GPS navigator requires that the user chooses a necessary address first and then builds and shows the itinerary for them. In the latter case, i.e. Zero UI, a navigator determines on its own where the driver is going (e.g., from work to home), then gets directions and calculates the trip time, traffic jams, etc. Or when TechCrunch is sending you push notifications with the latest tech news previews right to your browser - this is Zero UI, too! And when your Apple Music analyzes all tracks you've heard before, scans playlists of people with similar music preferences and shows you recommended artists and tracks - this is definitely Zero UI! I could actually find and add several dozens Zero UI examples to this post! Geo-based apps, mobile shops, taxi and food delivery services - the list would be endless.

All Zero UI based web services automatically fulfill user cases so that user isn't even aware of it, which makes the interaction process fast and convenient and can significantly improve user loyalty, as no one will want to go back to manual interface management after Zero UI.

So, what will happen next?

While making forecasts can be a waste of time, one thing is clear - Zero UI seems to be the most logical solution to most of today's product interface engineering issues. As such, Zero UI is likely to see an increased adoption in digital campaigns going forward. Today, what is considered to be a full-fledged digital campaign is actually comprised of more than just a "website + landing page + PR". Companies are slowly shifting towards major business processes transformations and are willing to take advantage of their Big Data and predictive analytics to personalize their communication with the user.

That being said, Zero UI is a trend that re-approches modern product design. With this in mind, UI design hypotheses are based on accurate business parameters, analytics and continuous testing, not on a given person's assumptions as before. With Zero UI, web design becomes a self-learning mechanism and UI design teams become analytics teams able to transform both design and business processes, and build and deliver new digital products tailored specifically to each particular user.

And what's your take on this?

Featured image: ShutterStock

Vik is our Brand Journalist and Head of Online Marketing / PR with 11+ years of international experience in IT B2B. He's also a guest blog contributor to Business2community, SitePoint, Journal of mHealth, Wearable Valley and other IT portals.