The search story of the week is that of ‘Ben’s Nan’.

Ben’s Nan became a Twitter sensation when Ben found that she had written ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in her Google search, figuring she’d get a better answer that way.

Like all hack, newsjacking bloggers, it got me thinking about what this could tell us about interaction design.

Ben’s Nan and her Google search

ben's nan

Why does this make me think about bots?

I’ve been a bit of a pessimist about bots, which peaked when I read a post by Dan Grover titled ‘Bots won’t replace apps. Better apps will replace apps.’

The thrust of the piece is that typing ‘hello bot’, ‘please can I order X and Y please’, ‘thank you’ etc. is actually fairly labour intensive – it requires far more taps than opening an app, selecting a product from a menu and paying with one-click ordering.

However, if we think like this, are we falling into the trap of assuming we have already designed ‘intuitive’ user interfaces in apps and on websites?

In reality, there is currently no such thing as an intuitive experience when it comes to user interfaces – yes, there are skeuomorphisms and conventions that have been in place for a long time, but people still have to learn how to use a computer and the internet and apps more specifically.

This doesn’t represent a problem for digital natives – they grow up using many different UIs and understand them almost instinctively.

However, there are still demographics that find using the internet more challenging.

I remember a blog article by Jennifer Morrow (via @WGX) about a first-time user of Internet Explorer back in 2011. The blog makes amusing reading because one realises how badly designed many digital experiences are.

Bots, though, and perhaps more accurately digital assistants are taking us towards a more intuitive interaction.

Users can simply talk to Alexa or Google Assistant in the same way they are used to interacting with a person.

Undoubtedly, there’s still a lot of complex set-up required, but the move is one toward intelligent assistance.

This aim for human-computer interaction shouldn’t be sneered at.

Assistants may eventually enable my grandfather to perform certain activities he has hitherto been unable to do through a laptop, even if the challenge of adoption and habit-forming is still a big one.

Ben’s Nan – I hope you’ve given us a glimpse into a future where it’s not so ridiculous to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to a robot, and even to receive better service because you did.