The Screenless Future

 

I just spent money on something I don’t need — an advanced GPS computer for bikers called Omata One.

I’m no biker. Well, of course, I have a bike, and I ride — as most Berliners do — but I don’t care about speed, distances, and vertical ascent. So there is no point in owning a speedometer, especially one this fancy.

For me, backing Omata on Kickstarter is just a gesture — a way to shake the hands of its creators, who have managed to overcome the world’s obsession with digital interfaces and build a digital GPS speedometer with an easy-to-read analog interface.

We at Colorfy know from experience: that is not an easy task to tackle.

A couple of years ago, we were working on a home sensor. The idea was to build a device that could gather data (temperature inside and outside, air pollution, humidity) and help people make their residences more energy-efficient and healthy.

The heart of the system was, of course, a smartphone app that gathered data from sensors, showed current figures, built lovely charts, and sent notifications from time to time.

How could it be otherwise, right?

But when the Colorfy team started testing the first prototype in our homes, it occurred to us that this initial idea had its flaws.

When you need to check the temperature on the terrace or the air quality at home, you don’t want to reach for your smartphone, unlock it, swipe a few screens to find the sensor’s app, and then launch it.

It’s much more natural and efficient to glance over at a sensor on the wall — just like people have been doing for decades.

After a few iterations, we realized that an app isn’t the best solution for all aspects of product’s interactions with the user.

We went back to the drawing board and came up with a different idea — what if we built a sensor that looks analog and shows its current data like any other ordinary device, but it has a hidden perk — an app that keeps records and can provide its users with interesting insights?

The app could help the user set up the system. After that, its job was quite opposite to what we had in mind in the beginning: to stay invisible and send alerts only when something goes wrong.

Ultimately, we failed to convince our client that people would buy into this idea of an analog-looking digital device. But the team fell so much in love with the concept that we decided to develop it on our own.

That’s how Sensorfy Hygro was born.

We weren’t the only people who had come to the same conclusion. Not long before that, Golden Krishna hit the nail on the head in his SXSW keynote speech, when he told the audience that “our love for the digital interface is out of control” and “the best interface is no interface.”

Three years later, things are beginning to change. The Best Interface is No Interface is a book now, and we live in a world where WithingsHelvetica 1, and Nuimo exist — not to mention Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa with their natural “voice” interfaces.

And it doesn’t look like Omata One needed my support.

They asked for $150,000 on Kickstarter — and have already gotten more than $210,000, and there is still five days to go.

I think that we’ll see more stories like this. Why? Because it makes sense.

Good designers humanize technology. They create experiences that bridge the gap between us and machines. We are here to make people’s lives easier, but our obsession with smartphones, apps, and digital screens too often makes them messier.

We’ll see more and more products with no interfaces thanks to the rise of AI that can analyze data and present the most relevant information when it’s really needed. I believe that design is starting to be an integral part of AI-driven interactions (but this topic merits a new post).

“We noticed that all the products were being designed for your maximum attention,” Omata’s co-founder Rhys Newman says. “Too often, it seems, gadgets control our lives instead of supplement them.”

More and more people are beginning to get it. Because if you want to come up with great design, you need to ask the right questions and approach problems with no pre-existing agenda. And you have to see the challenges clearly so you can solve problems. So, recently, during a workshop, we asked our partners and ourselves:

“Does this product really need to have a screen?”

“Good question,” the client said. “I don’t know.”

Our answer was to throw away all interfaces we had for the product. It’s exciting to see that they all can be replaced with just a single button.