User Interfaces: “User experience is becoming more important”

M2M User Interfaces

Dr. Michael Burmester has been a professor of ergonomics and usability at the Stuttgart Media University since 2002. In an interview, he explains why the user experience for user interfaces is becoming more important and how virtual reality and computer voice commands will drastically change the way we work.

Dr. Burmester, is the classic user interface soon a thing of the past and will we control computer systems simply with hand and head gestures or with voice commands?

Not exactly. In the consumer sector virtual reality certainly has a bright future. But in the workplace the introduction of technology is always coupled with the context of its use: How can virtual reality support people while they’re working? In the architecture sector, for example, virtual reality can be useful, since I can experience how a space works early on and make design corrections. But do I really need a 3D simulation of a refinery? It might look cool, but it’s not really necessary for controlling or managing a facility. And I also have glasses on my face, which could rather be distracting.

Is that also valid for augmented reality or voice commands?

Yes, here, too, you have make a differentiation. Augmented reality, for example, will be frequently used to support maintenance work. People new at a job will probably use augmented reality to make their work easier, but experts would likely find it distracting. They’d know how to disassemble a unit and would only need help with special details. Voice commands can certainly be useful, especially when both hands are needed for a task – elsewhere it might be superfluous.

Would users be satisfied with the pure functionality of user interfaces of today?

Certainly not. User interfaces have to be robust and easy to use. But nowadays we consider the criterion of a positive “user experience” nearly as important. That means I feel positive emotions both before and after usage, as well as during. This shouldn’t demote the importance of usability, but especially in the workplace of the future we have to consider: How can we make using technology an enjoyable experience?

What’s the best way to ensure a positive user experience in the workplace?

Under the auspices of the project “Design4Xperience”, supported by the German Economy Ministry, we discovered over the course of several interviews what exactly people consider a positive experience while working – initially completely removed from the technical aspect. We found, for example, that they like taking on challenges and consider it pleasant when they can help someone else. There are also positive experiences that are often underestimated: For example, simple feedback about how they are doing their job or that they are contributing towards achieving a common goal.

What does that mean for technical interfaces?

Its true systems don’t offer much feedback – even though in the age of digitalisation they know a huge amount about users. The system could, for example, notify a user what he achieved that day or what he did well.

To what degree is the criterion of positive user experience incorporated in user interfaces today?

Through our extensive contact with companies, we know that user experience in the workplace context plays only a superficial roll – if one at all. There are already studies showing that users prefer interfaces that elicit positive experiences. In working contexts, however, the opinion still prevails that we first and foremost have to be productive and efficient.

What are the most common mistakes made when developing interfaces?

Systems always have a strong inclination to think ahead. Everyone is probably familiar with one example: The system makes word suggestions that are automatically implemented while you’re writing unless you explicitly reject them. That leads to constant corrections and is far from optimal.


That means people need to regain more decision-making freedom?

Definitely. In regards to the user experience it’s important that we can make the decisions we consider correct. That also applies to usability: Users want to interact according to their own needs and speed without being told what to do by a machine. This principle is frequently being ignored amid increasing automation.

How do user interfaces at the workplace and consumer world differ?

In the consumer sector usability and user experience are already very important. If, for example, a user doesn’t like an app, she can simply pick another one. But at the workplace, a user is often forced to work with a particular system. In the end, you’re taking the risk here that people require more time to become familiar with that system.

Does there need to be a shift in attitudes at the workplace?

Absolutely. Better usability enables companies to boost productivity. A better user experience means people enjoy their jobs more and are more concentrated and creative at work. Our projects have shown us that there’s often much room for improvement. But change is naturally also always a question of setting priorities.

As our societies are getting older, we’re working longer. Can older people benefit from new user interfaces?

There’s a lot of potential, since they facilitate intuitive usage. But it’s necessary to build on the knowledge that has been acquired over the course of a lifetime. Think, for example, about a list on a multitasking surface: I scroll down and it rolls for a long time before coming to a stop. That essentially mimics reality. Objects that we touch move and slowly decelerate due to friction with a surface. We learn this as children and can therefore understand how it works. Which is why we can almost subconsciously operate user interfaces that act the same way. We are less occupied with the technology and more with what we actually want to do.

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