Do you think that UX design in computers is subject to disruptive innovations in similar ways that computer programming and hardware engineering are? I am specifically focusing on the core way we interact with computers, not the way the way elements are worded, colored, etc.

Currently, we design our programs based on what we think will be the easiest for someone to learn, as well as be easiest to use in the future (in general, try not to get nitpicky). A big part of what is familiar and easy is what people have used in the past (keyboard, mouse, button, text field, window etc). It seems that our current UX design methodology is heavily based on computer choices made in the past with a little inspiration from interaction with the real world (A folder stores documents, buttons, etc). Is there something fundamentally more intuitive to people (disruptive)? Or is it just whats most familiar and most evolved? (sustaining).

One way to look at this is to ask: Do users know how to use a text field because it's natural to them? Or because every text field on a computer has worked what way in the past.

Could there be some disruptive innovation in the way that UX is designed that is fundamentally better and could overcome learned computer behavior? Has this happened in computer history before in a place where UX was actually studied?

Another way to look at this (maybe): Is design intuitive naturally (because of real world experience and human nature)? Or is it intuitive because it's was most familiar based on previous computer experiences? Is whats familiar to users now, really the best way to design software?


3 Answers 3


The WIMP GUI was disruptive, it made computers accessible to a much greater audience. More recently, rich touch UIs (iPhones) were disruptive, they enabled much greater interactivity with small computers which had a major impact on culture and business.

Voice interaction is the next big disruptive UX technology coming up. It will be possibly the only truly intuitive human-machine interface yet developed, and when it gets to the point of being relatively effortless it will be very disruptive.

There's been a relatively rapid march towards intuitive systems, from UIs consisting of banks of switches, to command lines, to WIMP GUIs, to touch UIs. Things have been getting easier to learn and use, but not really intuitive. Voice could be the first interaction mode that becomes intuitive but it's not there yet.

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    I don't think voice is the future, but I agree with your other points.
    – user28446
    Jul 16, 2013 at 22:21
  • People said the same when touch screens failed to get wide adoption in the past. Once systems can parse language as naturally as humans can, I think it will be highly disruptive. Just like touch and gesture it is not appropriate for every use case. But if I could interact with my phone/media device/calendar as easily as my wife asking me to get her a sandwich or bring her the remote then things would be very different. Jul 17, 2013 at 0:16
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    @RobertKaucher I just think about situations like on the bus, in the workplace etc. Maybe your right and it may be the best for certain situations, but it seems like it is severely limited in others.
    – user28446
    Jul 17, 2013 at 4:30

The book "Designing Interfaces (2nd Edition)" by Jenifer Tidwell (book link) gives a relevant explanation on this topic, which I think might answer your question:

One could say, “The applications that are easy to use are designed to be intuitive.” Well, yes. That’s almost a tautology.

Except that the word “intuitive” is a little bit deceptive. Jef Raskin once pointed out that when we say “intuitive” in the context of software, we really mean “familiar.” Computer mice aren’t intuitive to someone who’s never seen one (though a growling grizzly bear would be). There’s nothing innate or instinctive in the human brain to account for it. But once you’ve taken ten seconds to learn to use a mouse, it’s familiar, and you’ll never forget it. Same for blue underlined text, play/ pause buttons, and so on.

Rephrased: “The applications that are easy to use are designed to be familiar.”

  • So do you believe that a fundamentally better way to design may exist? Or should we always build on what is familiar to computer users.
    – user28446
    Jul 16, 2013 at 3:37
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    What I believe is that, for high level UI design (page layout, information architecture, etc.) we'd better base our ideas on known patterns which the mass users are already familiar with. And for the detailed level, such as element styles and interaction styles, we can be more innovative and brave. It's a bit like font design - we keep the general 'pattern' of letters unchanged (so that they are still readable), and change the minor parts.
    – Neil Tan
    Jul 16, 2013 at 6:02
  • The whole theory of disruptive technologies is that traditional methods are better because they have evolved more. Certain new ways may be theoretically better, but cannot compete as well while they are underdeveloped. Eventually the theoretical benefits come to fruition and blow the old ways out of the water. Your observations are inline with the theory.
    – user28446
    Jul 16, 2013 at 16:17

I think UX Design is subject to non-disruptive simplification. Interactions are made simpler because of asynchronous technological progress and more educated users.

The come back of JS, the rise of: new technologies, action verbs (Like, Share, etc), Meta Data and voice recognition are all examples of this slow process (non disruptive simplification): it took some time for each to be mature (usable) and to spread to the web ecosystem.

Another example is form inputs and controls. Some very smart input fields exist on some major apps and take a long time to be replicated onto others apps. Often because the front-end logic is extremely back-end demanding.

To answer the questions in your last paragraph, I think it is a learnt behaviour which with time becomes more and more natural, and then expected.

UX is in the same boat as most of the IT related specialties, it can be done right the first time (satisfy users' expectations) and it needs to be revised to reflect evolving users interactions.

  • The idea that it is learned seems to support disruptive tech... It applies that something might be more natural, and would be better if we were just as familiar with it (see comment on Neils answer)
    – user28446
    Jul 17, 2013 at 14:50
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    It is not only because something is learnt that it is necessarily disruptive. There is a difference between evolution and disruption. The former is slow, the later is much quicker, much rarer. User Behaviour seems closer to evolution than disruption to me.
    – SuperFluxx
    Jul 17, 2013 at 16:51

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