I have been reading a lot lately about designers predicting the impending doom brought on by AI search queries. The way we interact with the web is changing, but not as much as you may think. Removing the need for visual web cues is akin to suggesting photographers have replaced illustrators.
AI’s and UI’s
For those who aren’t aware - the backstory for this, is that AI (Artificial Intelligence) assistants such as SIRI, Amazon Echo, Operator and Cortana will apparently ‘replace’ websites in some format. The theory is that we will eventually interact with web in a way that was dramatised in the 2013 film ‘Her’.
UI’s (User Interfaces) are the gorgeous elements that fill up a computer screen such as colours, fonts, shapes and animations. The idea is that if a computer can answer your question, or fulfil your need, there will be no purpose for a visual interface. This is somewhat true for low-involvement purchases, but in many cases UI elements form an integral part of the decision making process.
Purchase decisions and your AI
Means to an end
Looking at Kogan, it is quite clear to see that the focus is usually low involvement purchases, that are competing on value for money. The minimalist user interface, is a sleek pathway to assist you buying 3 LED TV’s, a USB cable and a back scratcher.
The non-UX elements that are important, stem from the product photographs and the associated peer reviews.
If you now direct your attention to the Trifecta website, you will notice the excruciating level of detail that the designers have used for the interface. Before visiting this website, there is a high chance that you have no idea what a Trifecta is, or what function is serves.
The team behind Trifecta have also removed any mention of prices, disabling a user from searching based on information.
When to use an AI
Comparing these two sites, you will immediately get a feel for when it would be fine to not explore the interface. Repeat purchases of fast moving consumer goods are almost second nature. They could easily be ordered via an AI. Infact, with the introduction of Amazon Prime Now/ Air, The Iconic and other same day delivery services, it would be stupid not to ask your phone to send you some more caster sugar.
In this instance, we can say goodbye to 50% of Amazon's UI team in 5 years.
When we need an Interface
Brands spend millions of dollars, in order to have a point of difference. A computer cannot replicate the feeling that a user experiences when buying into a product. Beyond mindless impulse purchases, we crave the interaction. I think this feeling can be summarised best by my favourite tweet of 2014:
"I’m just a boy, standing in front of a brand, asking it to engage with him" — Ethan Marcotte (@beep) September 24, 2014
Although it's a point of much contention, I believe that the world needs good design. The reason a Kindle or an iPod will never replace the arts, is simple: medium is as much tied to the arts, as is the art itself.
So, bring on the AI's, but UI will always hold it's own. As long as consumers still love to feel connected to they brand images they love.