The Power of Public Media

Published: 7 years ago


As a follow up to Lisa’s post on the UX Boston Conference #2, I am sharing my notes on two talks focusing on human centered design thinking.


About Chris: Chris Previte currently serves as the Academic Chair of the Design Department at the New England Institute of Art. He is a visual designer, photographer, and design educator. An alumnus of the Massachusetts College of Art & Design, Chris is completing an MFA in Graphic Design at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

In his presentation on The Value of Impermanence in Design, Chris introduced the Buddhist notion of Impermanence and provided fresh perspectives on user centered design thinking. His talk unfolded in three parts: Documentation, Impermanence, and Balance.

1. Documentation

Many spaces on the web (social media, photo sharing, genealogy sites, etc.) ask us to document so much of our lives, and the use of mobile devices have made documenting and sharing a constant behavior for many of us. The huge volume of user generated content and the expectation of being able to have or connect to it constantly also generate a great deal of User Anxiety (Remember how desperate you were when you couldn’t find your smartphone?). However, this need to document and save everything is only half the story.

2. Impermanence

There is an implied impermanence to these documentations and collections. The Buddhist notion of Impermanence is in fact something that we all can easily relate to in our daily experiences:

• People, things, memories and experiences change and evolve

• Impermanence brings hope (for a better outcome)

• Impermanence embodies the spirit of freedom, as opposed to the fixed state of permanence

Chris further explained Impermanence in Action from the angle of practical psychology. The telling of the story is more important than the actual facts, and the feelings and memories associated with the experience are far more long lasting than the event/object/fact itself. Chris also discussed Imagination (being out of the factual mode) and its importance in human experience.

3. Balance

Once we understand the value of Impermanence, we can incorporate it into our design practice. A few things to consider:

• Leaving a place for the viewer/user

• What the mind can imagine is often better than what can been shown

• Respect user’s intelligence and invite the user to be part of the story

• Impressions stay with the viewer/user

An example of how Impermanence can be incorporated into user experience:

Snapchat (

“Snap a photo or a video, add a caption, and send it to a friend. They’ll view it, laugh, and then the Snap disappears from the screen – unless they take a screenshot!… The best conversations happen when both friends are present, so we’ll let you know if your friend is Here in your Chat so that you can give each other your full attention.”



About Dorothy: Dorothy Shamonsky is Director of UI/UX R&D at Integrated Computer Solutions. Prior to joining ICS, she held positions at MOMA, MIT, Harvard, Merrill Lynch, and Viacom. Dr. Shamonsky holds a Ph.D. and Master’s Degree from MIT and a Bachelor’s Degree from RISD.

Dorothy’s presentation was a thinking out loud session in the quest to develop design principles for creating natural-feeling user interface.

What is NUI?

NUI stands for “Natural User Interface.” NUI is a type of user interface that is designed to feel as natural as possible to the user. The goal of NUI is to create seamless interaction between the human and machine, making the interface itself seem to disappear.

Some examples of NUI:

  • Touchscreen Interface. The direct feedback provided by a touchscreen interface makes it seem more natural than using a keyboard and mouse to interact with the objects on the screen.
  • Motion-based Video Game. The Nintendo Wii, for instance, allows you to perform actions on the screen by responding to your natural motion (waving a controller in the air).
  • Voice Recognition Interface. Apple’s Siri assistant on the iPhone is considered a NUI since it responds to naturally spoken commands and questions.
  • Virtual Reality Devices, which emulate a real world experience.
  • Some robots are considered NUIs as they respond to human motion and spoken commands.

What are the Design Principles of NUI?

1. Choose an input and output modality that is appropriate to the context of use. NUIs are not restricted to the paradigm of a physical keyboard, mouse and display screen in order to interact with them. Instead the modality of interaction is determined by the context of use.

2. Content is the interface. NUIs allow the user to interact directly with the content as opposed to commands and controls that manipulate content. For example, a NUI could use a gesture to remove an item, such as crossing out (swiping) an item on a list or tossing (air gesture) an item away, instead of a menu command or having the user to drag that item to a trash can icon. A typical goal or a NUI visual interface compared to a GUI (Graphical User Interface), is to reduce or eliminate visual controls, as much as possible.

3. Leverage instinct or innate skills such as motor memory and sense of 2 and 3-D space. With gesture and speech modalities, innate human abilities such as remembering physical gestures and actions and orienting in 2 and 3-D space can be utilized for a more natural experience.

4. Leverage already learned behavior. Our learned behavior is not restricted to eye-hand coordination. In NUIs where input and output modalities are expanded to utilize more human capabilities, the user experience will engage a wider spectrum of learned behavior. Devices that capture air gestures can potentially use full body actions to control the device, such as conducting an orchestra.

5. Discoverable and easy with progressive complexity. NUI applications or devices should not require training to use, but instead be discoverable in the way that things in physical reality can be figured out. This can be supported by using only simple interaction patterns, which can be replicated in order to achieve complexity progressively.

6. Inviting and highly responsive. We are used to highly responsive interaction with physical reality. Things that are alive and ready to interact are more inviting.

7. Pleasurable and enjoyable. There is a market demand for more appealing and enjoyable interactions.

8. Personalized. Personalized means automatically more valuable to the user with less effort on the user’s part. Devices having social intelligence feels more natural to us as humans, who have a highly developed social intelligence.

9. Intelligent. NUI user experiences need to have a level of intelligence in order to meet some of the above requirements such as highly responsive and personalized.

10. Simple and Elegant. If all of the above design principles are followed, the resulting user experience should be elegant. One of the definitions of elegant is simple; elegant means nothing superfluous. This is the higher goal of a NUI user experience.


Microsoft Research Paper definition of a Natural User Interface (NUI)

Wiki definition of a Natural User Interface (NUI)


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