The next phase of interface design? How AI could streamline the way we use our devices

Modem and Mouthwash explore a future where one umbrella interface handles everything you do on your device – texting, ordering an Uber, even monitoring your mood.

18 June 2024

For better or worse, AI has threatened to alter nearly every aspect of our digital life – every aspect, except for user interfaces, according to Mouthwash and Modem. A new project from these two technology-focused design studios attempts to change this. The work is called General Purpose Interfaces, and it’s a speculative project that tries to imagine the next phase of user interface design, where one master AI-powered interface could organise everything we do on our device.

“Apps were originally designed to make end results easier to obtain,” says Modem’s Fanneke Budding. Now, Fanneke says apps have become like items on “a laundry list of checkboxes” that users face whenever they open their phones. This project puts forward a set of principles for designing a single interface that can replace many. The goal is not to change the products we use but how we interact with them.

The assets mocked up by Mouthwash and Modem gives an idea of how this might look. The speculative interface is designed to look basic; a simple interface can squish and flex depending on its application. Rather than getting notifications from several different sources, like WhatsApp, Instagram and Gmail, this interface would monitor all incoming sources of information and handle notifications. It can also respond to this information; “ordering an Uber, scheduling appointments”, or even recommending breathing exercises when a spike in heart rate is detected.

Mouthwash and Modem outlined their stance on user privacy, with regard to personal data collection: “We live in a day and age where security and privacy is and should always be top of mind for users. There is still a ton of work to do when it comes to tightening down the nuances of GPIs, but our initial thought is that all user data would need to remain confined to the device itself, without any need to transfer information to the cloud.

We had many discussions internally about making sure GPIs were always positioned as an option for users, not a requirement. Meaning, in some instances you’ll have to give up some personal data in order to maximise the benefits it can provide. And on the other hand, if you’re unwilling to give up that personal data, it is still able to operate in some capacity.”

At present, this is a completely speculative design project – Mouthwash and Modem will continue to adjust based on the responses from the public and design community, which have been “both positive and critically constructive”, they say. Their hope is to inspire interfaces that integrate better into our lives.

It also marks the beginning of a collaboration between two teams at the intersection of design and technology. Modem worked on the gorpcore AI compass Terra, while Mouthwash just extended its popular web-based design work in with the establishment of a new research arm. Both studios will continue to work on General Purpose Interfaces as part of an ongoing series of self-initiated research papers on the future of digital life.

GalleryMouthwash / Modem: General Purpose Interfaces (Copyright © Mouthwash / Modem, 2024)

Mouthwash / Modem: General Purpose Interfaces (Copyright © Mouthwash / Modem, 2024)

Mouthwash / Modem: General Purpose Interfaces (Copyright © Mouthwash / Modem, 2024)

Mouthwash / Modem: General Purpose Interfaces (Copyright © Mouthwash / Modem, 2024)

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Modem / Mouthwash: General Purpose Interfaces (Copyright © Modem / Mouthwash, 2024)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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