User Interface is Magic

Thor (2011) by Marvel Studios “Your ancestors called it magic and you call it science. Well, I come from a place where they’re one in the same thing.”
Thor (2011) by Marvel Studios “Your ancestors called it magic and you call it science. Well, I come from a place where they’re one in the same thing.”

The Introduction

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Not to be confused with witchcraft and wizardry, British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke is talking about how an advanced technology beyond our understanding can have the same effects of looking “magical” and unexplainable. And to me, this is the funnest way to describe the technology we interact with on a daily basis. On the other hand, a user interface acts as a bridge to that magic.

When an interface is presented to a user, he or she simply uses it and there is no need for them to understand how it works, the technical knowledge and terminologies. This is because the role of the user interface is being invisible, it is weaved into our everyday life. It should behave how exactly the user thought it would.

Iron Man 3 (2013) by Marvel Studios
RIron Man 3 (2013) by Marvel Studios

The relationship between UI and UX

“I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one.” — Tony Stark, Iron Man 2 (2010)

The relationship between UI and UX is almost seen as one, yet they cannot work without one another. Take Iron Man for example, without the suit, Tony Stark is mere human like you and I. But, he was the brains behind the advanced suited armour (akin to how UX is the brain behind a product). The opposite is true for the suit, no matter how beautifully designed and technologically powerful, it is a paperweight without its user.

But what makes a successful UI?

As the bridge to the magic (technology), the interface have to be easily understandable and clearly communicate what it does or will do for the user. That includes having a clear and consistent visual language in: typography, colour and iconography.

Additionally, with a good UI, users should not require (much) instruction on how to use the product. Users should have the ability to undo an unintended error, have visibility on what is going on (i.e. loading screens) and able to make quick choices (the opposite would be giving users too much information or options to decide their next step). These traits will shape how users interact with the technology and ultimately shape their perception of the overall product experience. A negative experience will be detrimental to the brand’s credibility which will be difficult to recover from. When the principles are well applied in the right context, carrying out jobs-to-be-done will be a walk in the park for the users.

Bunin UX Blog • A good example of how an additional information can help users to decide better.

Personal Reflection: The future of user interface design

In my recent curiosity in Web3, artificial intelligence and automation (Metaverse, self-driving cars, AI robots), it sparked more questions for UX and UI. When we are able to finally interact inside a virtual world (three dimensional), would it make sense for UI to still be flat (two dimensional) with minimal tactile feedback? How would we wave down a self-driving car like what we do now for taxis on the road? Do we only speak commands (voice-enabled interface) to our robot assistant to request a task completion? These technologies are not that far from becoming part of our reality.

And when that day comes, it will be quite possible that technology will truly become “magic” and our grasp in UI design principles will bring us a long way.

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Edwin Lau

Edwin Lau

I develop brands, visual identities and websites. When I was 10, self-taught HTML and CSS so that I could make a Neopets fan page.