What are Automagical User Experiences?
“Excellent UX happens when your users don’t know how your app is working—it just works.” – Kayla Heffernan
Imagine a world where at the end of your work day, all you have to do is sit in your car and it’ll drive you back home. Getting home, that car parks itself in your garage and your home lights turn on automatically even before you enter the house. The air conditioning automatically prepares the house for you and the television turns on to your favorite show. There are a lot of things that we do on a routine basis that we can automate based on how we use them. When we do achieve automating these tasks, it feels like magic, but really, it’s an automagical experience.
The goal of an interface is for a user to have a way to communicate with the system and command it to fulfill his or her needs and goals. Everyday we interact with a lot of interfaces that work for us; for example, the steering wheel in our cars to orient the direction of the car and the foot pedals to adjust speed. We can even find interfaces in our own home that allow us to cook, entertain, sleep, etc. Our computers and phones allow us to interact with them to do work and connect with the world. Automagical user experiences remove a layer of the user’s interaction to fulfill the user’s need automatically.
Automagical user experiences makes intelligent predictions and assumptions about the user’s needs or next actions based on a collection of input information. Because of this intelligence, the user interaction with the system becomes less important in order to achieve the intended next step and/or end goal.
Self driving cars, magic back in the day, ‘automagic’ today. Source
Examples out in the wild:
Although humans are far from just relaxing under the sun with robots doing everything for them, we do have a lot of automagical user experiences in different devices and services that we use today. To a certain degree, our disregard towards these systems are a testament to how well designed these automagical experiences are. They just work, anticipating our next move without the need for users to guide them.
Here are some examples of what we use today:
- Location-aware notifications (Used in phone reminders, map apps, etc)
- Auto-backup applications such as like Dropbox/Google Drive/iOS Photostream
- Recommendations (based on location, product views, and searches)
- Smart Text: detecting dates, contacts, and addresses in a paragraph and automatically becoming clickable
- Smart Appliances (Automatic lights, locks, refrigerators and garage doors)
- Self-driving Cars (lane detection technology, smart braking)
- Automatic Social Media Posts like Facebook’s “1 year ago” posts or iOS’s Memories generator
- Auto shutdown/sleep or Raise to wake for devices
- Camera face detection/autofocus
- Smart Thermostats adjusting temperatures based on usage
- Active listening technology such as Amazon Echo or Google’s “Hey, Google”
Autofocus let’s us capture the most critical moments by freeing us from the time we need to adjust the camera. You could say that this automagical feature lets us “focus” on the moment, rather than how to capture it. Source
Why are automagical user experiences important?
A fined tuned and well designed automagical interface will provide an engaging and efficient experience to the user. It will increase the likelihood that the user will recommend the systems to their friend, thereby feeding a viral growth loop. Additionally, the higher usage levels means more data acquisition, which can then be used to generate revenue or continue to tune the system.
At the end of the day, designing any interface requires understanding user needs to make it easy for them to interact with a device to achieve their goals as efficiently as possible. The ultimate design goal for the user is to have the least amount of obstruction in achieving their goals. With automagical user experiences, the unpredictable variable of the physical or virtual interface is eradicated, and the user’s goals are achieved using informed and accurate predictions.
The only barrier-of-entry or requirement for a user to use Google’s search interface is for them to know what to search for and to know how to click a button. No wonder Google is a verb these days. Source
Automagical user experiences offer advantages in terms of how we interact with technology and how we accomplish our everyday goals. With automagical user interfaces, we get to completely focus on the goals we have rather than fiddle with layers of interfaces to achieve those goals. Life becomes more convenient as your needs are fulfilled whenever and wherever you are, without the need for you to command or instruct how a goal can be accomplished. In order to successfully execute automagical user experiences, the system needs substantial information about the user in order for it to predict and act on those predictions accurately. Ultimately, the biggest challenge comes from the information (or lack thereof) being fed into the system.
What if you saw unwanted product recommendations on your Amazon account because another family member used your account to browse the online store. Imagine a GPS system leading you to a totally different location or suggested a longer route because of the lack of data or inaccurate predictions about the estimated time of arrival. Visualize yourself taking a plethora of pictures during a special event in your life only to discover that all your pictures are blurry because the autofocus system of your camera wasn’t given enough information to make accurate adjustments. Can you imagine losing precious memories from those photos because the automatic backup systems lack the data to know what to backup or what to overwrite?
The success of automagical user experiences comes with the actual execution of the system itself. However, a poorly executed experience can lead to a frustrated user where they end up doing more work than intended.
Bad data only introduces a domino effect of mistakes and frustrations for the user. Automagical systems, along with the user, suffers with bad data. Source
How to design with Automagic in mind
The most important ingredient for designing with automagic is information. Automagic revolves around accurate predictions of what users would do at a certain point and at a specific moment in time, thus understanding the user is key to a successful design. Having more data and information can lead to a higher percentage of correct assumptions for what users need at that specific moment in time.
Designing with automagic shouldn’t be limited to a single user. With more users, we can get more data, and the predictions become much more accurate. Of course, much of the designing should also take advantage of all current technologies that have perfected their own implementation of automagic systems such as the examples that have been mentioned earlier.
Ultimately, automagic needs to keep evolving. People evolve, people’s patterns change, tastes change, interests change, and technology changes.
Automagical user experiences in our projects
Automagic can be seen in a number of projects Momentum has taken on. We’ve incorporated automagical user experiences in our projects even with the simplest of interactions such as pre-filling time and dates in forms. More complex implementations can be seen in other projects we’ve worked on such as apps that can read types of physical documents and determine sections to convert them to interactive virtual forms. It bridges the arduous task of filling the documentation by hand and then converting the data into machine-readable information. Optical character reading (OCR) is another form of an automagical experience that can be seen in some of our projects. Any type of physical or digital receipt can be uploaded in their application. The system “reads” the receipts using their OCR process and pre-fills fields in forms using the data the system acquired through the reading. This is a quick and convenient way of submitting expense data without the need to type all the data in one-by-one. This type of interface is a delight for expense tracking since it simplifies the tedious task of keeping all the receipts, providing photographic proof, and making sure there are no errors in the input values through an accurate OCR system.
A healthcare app we worked on uses automagic to determine relevant information that can be pre-filled in their forms.
And for our final trick…
Automagical user experiences could be the ultimate goal for design as the ideal automagical experience guarantees that users achieve their goals effectively and efficiently without obstruction.The system just knows the user and anticipates their needs and goals all the time. Magic? No. It’s Automagic!