Natural User Interface: Definition & Examples

Instructor: David Gloag

David has over 40 years of industry experience in software development and information technology and a bachelor of computer science

Our ability to use and interact with the things around us determines how effective we will be. In this lesson, we'll take a look at user interfaces, what makes them natural, and some examples.

Interaction and Existence

We interact with everything around us. As humans, it's what we do. We interact with our neighbors when we meet them on the street, we interact with our pets when we come home after work, and we interact with our television when we kick back for the evening.

These interactions shape our existence. But not all interactions are smooth. A radio may have awkward tuning, or a golf club may not be hit properly. In each case, there was something that was not quite right, something that stopped you from using it as intended. In other words, there was something wrong with the user interface.

What Is User Interface?

A user interface is the means that a person uses to interact with an object or software application. Or to put it another way, it is how a person supplies input to, or receives output from, that object or application.

User interface is developed by the manufacturer as part of the design effort, and dictates how the object or application is perceived and ultimately used. Sometimes the user interface is simple, like that of table cutlery. Other times it requires significant instruction and practice, like driving a car.

Regardless of the difficulty in design, the user interface shapes our experience, and attempts to push us in the direction the manufacturer intended.

Natural User Interface

A natural user interface (NUI) is a user interface that directly accesses the intended use of an object. It's a bit of an abstract concept, so let's see some examples to better explain it.

The most obvious example of a natural user interface is that of a ball - a soccer ball or football in particular. In soccer, you score by kicking the ball into the goal, directly accessing the intended use. A football is much the same.

Baseballs are a different story. It is natural in the sense that you run the bases to score, and you throw the ball. But it uses tools for catching the ball (a glove), and hitting the ball (a bat). It's not entirely natural.

NUI in Computers

Software often does not a natural user interface either. In traditional software applications, you don't directly access the intended use: information. You use a tool, such as the keyboard, or mouse to perform this activity. The process is not direct, and that level of indirection is what separates the natural from the non-natural.

However, as devices change, the word 'natural' has come to mean using natural motions when interacting with those devices.

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