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ChatGPT reminds us to keep our own user interfaces plain and simple

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ChatGPT reminds us to keep our own user interfaces plain and simple.

Swipe, tap, or scroll? User interfaces are getting more and more intuitive, and there’s a lesson in there for all of us.

UI, AND YOU AND ME

I’ve been thinking about the importance of UI design —and specifically about how much a great user interface affects the uptake of a new technology.

With hundreds of millions of users (and over a billion dollars in revenue), ChatGPT has clearly tapped into the public’s imagination around AI.

But. 

As impressive as the language model is, can we all take a moment to recognize how friendly ChatGPT’s user interface is?

An elegantly minimal charcoal chatbot, with a history bar on the left, and a text entry field across the bottom.

That’s it.

No menus. No on screen logos or colors, other than the username icons in the chat itself.

As OpenAI’s COO puts it, “give people an interface in a format that is more intuitive, and they will use it.”

He’s right. The popularity of any tech —regardless of its underlying complexity— is often determined by its ease of use.

And this isn’t new.

ONCE UPON A TIME, IN A LAND FAR, FAR AWAY

Computers used to operate via something called command-line interfaces. (👋 Smash reply if you remember DOS!)

In 1984, the Mac (and a funny new piece of hardware called a mouse) moved personal computing from blinking cursors and green lines of text to folder and document icons, thanks to an operating system they (quaintly) called a “graphical user interface”. A few years later, Microsoft Windows followed suit.

It all feels like ancient history now, but Windows and the Mac marked a significant shift in how people could interact with computers by simply making them more accessible.

This paradigm shift continued with the introduction of web browsers like Mosaic and Netscape in the 1990s. (Before these browsers, the internet was completely text-based.) The graphical navigation they offered opened a totally new world —and set the stage for the Internet’s explosive growth.

Software continued to get more and more user friendly throughout the 2010s, in increasingly novel ways.

Though both feel commonplace now, Apple’s Siri (2011/2012) and Amazon’s Alexa (2014) were total game-changers when it comes to how we interact with software.

They turned the interface into our own ears and voices. Commands and replies all of a sudden felt more like conversations, seriously lowering the interaction barrier, especially for those who might be tech-averse.

Around the same time Tinder’s introduction of the “swipe left or right” mechanism changed the way the world views online dating. The simple concept totally revolutionized user engagement by letting them make split-second decisions based on first impressions.

This casual, intuitive interaction made the app feel less like a formal quote-unquote “dating site” and more like a game, breaking down many people’s hesitations towards meeting someone this way.

(That “swiping” action became so iconic that the word is now synonymous with quick decisions, and influences UI design in plenty of other apps outside of dating.)

The lesson: no matter how advanced or revolutionary a technology might be, its success often hinges on how user-friendly its presentation is.

OK, WHAT’S THE POINT HERE?

In our view, there’s a clear a parallel between the successful, user-friendly tech, and successful, effective communication in our daily lives.

Stay with me.

Say it simply might seem like obvious advice, but look around. Obvious or not, it’s definitely not being followed as often as it should be. Your inbox is likely full of all sorts of overwritten emails that you struggle to fully comprehend. And it’s a safe bet that many of your meetings are twice as long as they need be.

Good communication (or the lack thereof) can drastically impact outcomes, in both professional and personal scenarios.

Among the many, many lessons that user-friendly platforms like ChatGPT have for us is this: it's not just about what the tech can do—it's also about how easily it can be accessed and understood.

And here’s the best part: this lesson isn’t limited to software designers. You and I can put it into practice today.

Practically speaking, next time you're about to hit 'Send' or 'Share Screen', pause.

Take a moment.

And simply ask yourself whether you’ve made whatever you’re sharing as clear and as simple as possible?

Because, just as with tech UI, the best interface in human to human communication is the one that gets the job done with the least amount of friction.

That means fewer words. Simpler logic. Clearer asks.

ChatGPT can thank its sleek and intuitive interface for its popularity.

However, we humans can also thank that simple interface too —for reminding us to prioritize simplicity and clarity in our own communications with one another.

This is important, and not just for you but for everyone else as well.

As more and more of the world’s content becomes computer generated, the human written word, your words, are going to get rarer.

That will make them more valuable.

You have a particular and specific genius, born out of your experiences and expertise, your taste, and vibe.

As I’ve written, there is literally no one or no thing on Earth that can match your voice and your knowledge.

Your audience, no matter how niche, is out there and waiting.

Do not let a clunky user interface get in the way.

More:

Americans use AI more than ever, and they trust it less than ever »»

Written by Jon Kallus. Any feedback? Just reply! 

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