What is Hidden Web UI?

What is Hidden Web UI?

Windows 8 homescreen

A popular question that pops up on occasion is “What is the future for web design?” There are dozens of fair answers such as voice integration, and personal chatbots. The one thing that people don’t really talk about is hidden user interfaces. It is a trend that we have been seeing more and more of, but people whom I’ve debated with seem to disagree vehemently. For as long as we have screens, I do believe that user interfaces will continue to integrate hidden controls.

What is Hidden UI? 

Hidden UI is a method used for web design that allows most controls to be hidden away from the user. Hidden UI allows for more room to work with design wise and keeps the importance of highlighting the visuals of what is really important. In order for users to interact, they would uncover the controls which may be hidden behind icons or offscreen.

The argument that hidden UI is “bad practice” comes from the fact that users can often struggle with interactions. For people who aren’t tech savvy will struggle the hardest because they are not familiar with some of the gestures and icons that are being used throughout the design.

Examples of Hidden UI 

We have seen various examples of hidden UI throughout software and web design alike. In terms of software, we have seen Microsoft release their OS for both PC and mobile in 2012, Windows 8. 

Windows 8 laptop
Windows 8 hides core controls behind tiles and icons – Source microsoft.com

Unlike previous iterations of Windows, most of the functionality such as computer settings, documents, and start menu, were either hidden behind icons or required the user to swipe around for them. From a design aspect, the interface was significantly cleaner, and provided easy access to the important software for the user.

Although the design was a success for Windows Phones, it was heavily criticized on PC. It was a bit confusing to many PC users at they weren’t used to the “smartphone-like” interface. This forced Microsoft to update their next OS with a more traditional interface that people were familiar with. However, the hidden functionality is becoming more popular among apps such as Instagram and Snapchat and is slowly being implemented in web design. Don’t be surprised to see an interface that looks like Windows 8 making a return for desktop computers. 

E-commerce

E-commerce sites are the perfect examples of champions of hidden UI. With heavy content and navigation, designers have decided to hide most of those elements behind icons such as the hamburger icon. Before the smartphone era, it was said that it was important to show as much navigation as possible in order to give the user complete control of their experience. This is the reason why many argue against hidden ui being the future of interface design.

etsy homepage mobile
Etsy uses hidden UI for navigation – Source: etsy.com

The truth is, not everyone is going to utilize every piece of navigation on the site. In fact, there might be parts of the navigation that is heavily used over others. So much that the underused elements might be more beneficial just by hiding them, such as the “account” page and “about us”.

Social Apps

Whenever Instagram rolls out a new interface update, we typically hear complaints about how much more confusing it is to use the app. The culprit is usually the UX controls becoming less present on the screen and more within the hidden menus. An app like Instagram, whose main feature is showing images, benefits in hidden UI by showing less navigation, and instead, highlighting photos and videos. 

instagram home screen
Instagram hides interactions that are not important to the UX – Source: instagram.com

Hidden UI allows room for intuitiveness for the sake of user experience. By hiding many elements, the UX of products will begin to speed up, allowing users to accomplish more things quicker. The new and improved Samsung One UI allows for most of the crucial controls at the edge of the screen for easy touches and hides some of the less important controls offscreen.  

Voice Assistants

The ultimate use of hidden UI is in fact within voice assistants. When there is no screen available and the important thing you want to get done is ordering a new bottle of detergent, why would you take the time to navigate through, screens after screens of unnecessary pages. Voice UX is known for being the future of UX because it is a streamlined way of getting certain tasks done, without having to interact with anything in between. 

google home
Google home voice features eliminates the use of a screen – Photo by Thomas Kolnowski on Unsplash

As we move through time, the argument that hidden UI is nothing but a confusing concept will be nothing but an old story. As younger users mature, most of the hidden UI concepts will become not only common knowledge, but will also be the favorable approach. We forget that once upon a time, the computer mouse was introduced and many people thought the concept of a mouse was confusing and stuck to the keyboard. As people mature with technology, the mouse became a common solution. Here we are today not even wanting to imagine a world without computer mice or trackpads.