Enhancing Reality With First Person User Interface Design

Software companies have tried to use real world metaphors in their design, (i.e. the desktop) in an attempt to bridge the interface design and user understanding. While many applications do mimic reality somewhat, truly enhancing design leads to:

  1. Helping the user to be more productive
  2. Discovering newer ways to communicate
  3. Better managing increased data

So how can these three objectives be accomplished? By effectively designing first-person user interfaces.

What is a first person user interface?

The first-person user interface enables the user to interact with an interface as they would with that real-world object. A great example would be GPS devices. When driving down the highway, drivers face real-world exit signs. However, if you look at the GPS, the perspective of that same route is aerial. If the user flew over the highway, that perspective would make more sense. TomTom, a GPS software company, shifted their interface from two-dimensional aerial to three-dimensional first person because they saw the value in designing an interface that mimicked user reality. In addition to TomTom, Nearest Tube is a first-person application that views the world through your cell phone camera to tell users where the nearest subway station is located. Using your camera as a compass, Nearest Tube directs you to the subway location using arrows to guide your step.

More than just navigation

While many people don’t remember what the world was like before GPS became so commonplace, creating a first user interface is more than navigation. It enables you to directly interact with people and objects in ways that enhance your real-world perspective. Imagine going to a restaurant and getting ratings and reviews from actual patrons. That’s what applications like UrbanSpoon and OpenTable are doing. In conjunction with their phone’s GPS, users are able to learn what other actual patrons have said about the restaurant, take a look at the menu, pictures of the dishes, and in some cases invite friends for a meal. Providing users with additional information that they wouldn’t necessarily have ready access to in real life is another way first-person user interaction augments user reality. During the 2012 SXSW conference, the social networking application Highlight showed how first-person interaction can become even more personal. Users who have downloaded Highlight and are standing next to another Highlight user can learn more about that user. They can see their latest tweet, what friends they have in common, and other social networking information. The highlight is attempting to successfully combine enhanced user interaction with social networking. It remains to be seen if they are successful but the idea that first-person user interfaces can be used to create a bond not only between user and interface but user and user takes design in a whole new direction.


First-person user interface design uses reality to allow users to be more productive, handle more data, and find newer ways to communicate with the design as well as each other. For the time being, designing interfaces from the first-person perspective has yet to be fully exploited, much less exhausted. If that time comes, there is the possibility that the user’s reality will be radically reshaped to the point where designers may be forced to redefine first-person interface design.