October 18, 2021

Natural User Interface: Is Natural Always Better?


When it comes to human computer interface, Natural User Interface(NUI) is always a natural topic. HoloLens only supports hand gestures, voice, gaze, which are directly conducted by human body, so they must be natural. But is natural always better? Why it has to be natural?

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One thing I noticed about human is: We tend to push things to extreme when we find something good and we don’t really know, or something bad we don’t really know. Part of the reason is our nature: people like being dramatic, because it excites us. If you make $50 today, and $51 tomorrow, that’s boring, it has to be $500 to excite our brain. We, all of us, have the desire to be excited. Another reason is our brain’s intrinsic laziness: thinking is hard, it takes a lot more energy than any other human activities. Therefore, when we see something new, we try to connect that to things that we already thought about, even though they don’t fit. Enough psychology, the fact, when we see NUI, we find it new and good, so we tend to think it’s good all the way, better than anything we know. That’s wrong.

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We have to understand this: being new and natural doesn’t make it better than something that is not new, not natural. If something exists for 50 years, there is a underline logic to it. There is a reason something exists for 50 years, and there is good chance it will exist for another 50 years before it is replaced by something better. To decide if a human-computer interaction is good, the foremost rule is not being natural, it’s efficiency, it’s effortlessness. If doing something takes least effort, achieves the most, that’s the best. Mouse is great because: 1. Your hand move very tinny distance to get the cursor move from anywhere to anywhere on screen. 2. Your fingers on the buttons all the time. It’s effortless to click a button. 3. Your hand simply rest on it. There is no second method that is remotely close to what a mouse can do on the computer.

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Hand gesture, on the other hand, takes a lot more effort than using a mouse. It is laborious work if you do that for hours. Voice is fine for special cases, but people don’t want to do that regularly. Same with touch, once you are siting at a desk, mouse still the primary input device, touch is secondary at best.

Saying that I don’t mean NUI is unnecessary, it’s just it can’t replace mouse + keyboard as main input devices for most cases, but as a complementary method, it is certainly helpful. For mobile environment, especially with HoloLens,  when you have to stand, there is no mouse or keyboard available, natural user interface should be the main interface. I think even with HoloLens, mouse and keyboard need to be available whenever possible, even you don’t have a surface to use them on, maybe a virtual keyboard and virtual mouse can help.

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