Darmstadt, December 2014 - As soon as a user has to think in dealing with a machine, the people who set up the system haven't done a good job. At least this is the opinion of Thomas Klose, Creative Director and Editorial Director at Camao AG in Darmstadt. The user is the one for whom an interface, as man-machine interfaces are also called, should be the least noticeable.
Who should deal with the issue of human-machine interface?
Thomas Klose: Interfaces with machines have become an integral part of our lives. Even when we turn on the hair dryer or start the car, we come into contact with a machine. This means that coming to terms with interfaces is essential for everyone who develops hardware or software: all designers, concept developers, and programmers. Each of them has to develop a feel for what makes a good human-machine interface. Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of this.
And by the way, this has not only been the case since computers have entered our lives. A pair of scissors or an axe represents a form of the interface, and even here there are good and bad versions. Therefore, a detailed study of this issue is not only a question of good product development and its later acceptance, but also of empathy with other people. A misanthrope would be out of place here.
In your view, what are the greatest current challenges?
Thomas Klose: With increasing digitization, interfaces will be encountered in ever-more situations. Let’s take the issue of the "smart home", which is part of the "Internet of Things". In the future, you will be able to reach and control any electrical device via an interface - from the heating and the shutters to the egg cooker, which you can turn on when you’re on the way back from buying your breakfast rolls. The challenge is thus in the sheer size of the endeavor. In the future, interfaces and standards for all of these interfaces that embrace people and not overwhelm them will need to be established.
Does this mean creating the perfect interface?
Thomas Klose: For several years now, we’ve observed human fatigue and excessive demands when dealing with electronic equipment. This can still be attributed to the often poor quality of interfaces that were conceived and designed with too little attention paid to the user. However, I am also firmly convinced that we do not really want a fully digitized world. The desire for sustainability and the "real and genuine”, the renaissance of self-made and natural materials are no coincidence. It is a kind of counter-movement and an expression of a human longing for warmth and vitality - something a machine will never be able to give us, no matter how perfect is the interface to it.
What do interfaces have to be like for people to accept them?
Thomas Klose: For this purpose, there are as many concepts as technological alternatives. There is a clear trend towards "wearables", for which new and more intuitive input forms, such as voice and gesture control, play a role. They keep your hands free to do other things, like controlling the car. What almost all have in common is that the interface continues to move further into the background. It is subordinate to the function - and especially the environment - and is only noticeable when it is needed, like a friendly genie, which only appears when you call him.
What are the central parameters for coming developments?
Thomas Klose: I see three important aspects: visibility, proximity, and intelligence. The visibility and perceptibility of human-machine interfaces will decline. At the same time, there will be increased long-term physical proximity. Some people are already talking about contact lenses and eye implants as successors to Google Glass. I personally don’t believe in this as a mass product, at least not in the near future.
The interface’s own intelligence will become increasingly important. We are already seeing that programs like Siri and Google Search can interpret simple questions and provide spoken answers. Against the background of the growing complexity of the digital world, this will increase and relieve people of some types of mental work.
And what will be an appropriate way to deal with this future development?
Thomas Klose: Professionals have to go into this rapidly evolving field with constant interest and continuous learning. Users need to keep a healthy distance and maintain awareness of what is happening. This ultimately means that the only products that will succeed are those that have broad acceptance. Again, Google Glass is a good example: At first it was celebrated, but so far the device has not achieved market penetration. The reason is the mismatch between external inconvenience and the low added value for the user.