Is UI Dead? How Conversational Models Are Taking Over

August 6, 2023
Sol Fine Dreyfus

About  Flymingo

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We live in an era of data. As Product Managers, our primary role has often been to present this data in an understandable and accessible way to our users. We’ve been building dashboards, graphics, and charts and incorporating numerous filters to ensure our users find what they want. However, the emergence of large language models (LLMs), like GPT, is on the brink of overhauling this status quo.

The Old Paradigm

Before diving into the transformation that LLMs are bringing about, let’s address the elephant in the room: the overwhelming buzz surrounding them. Investors can’t stop talking about LLMs. Everywhere you turn, there’s another headline or panel discussion centered on their potential. For too many product managers, this constant chatter feels like an echo chamber of hype, bordering on annoyance. It’s easy to dismiss this fervor as mere trend-chasing. However, here’s a perspective that might be hard to swallow for some: this hype is well-founded. As much as we love our tried and tested methodologies, we must recognize the winds of change and adjust our sails.

Understanding the user has always been at the center of product management. We’ve spent countless hours interviewing our customers, analyzing their pain points, and learning about their daily tasks. The result has been comprehensive business intelligence (BI) platforms designed to answer as many questions as possible. Yet, with their myriad of data presentations, these platforms often overwhelmed the average user. The problem? An overflow of visuals and options leads to a paradox of choice.

The Rise of LLMs

LLMs have brought an innovative approach to user interaction. Instead of requiring users to navigate intricate dashboards, they can now ask questions in natural language. This interaction mimics a human conversation, making it more intuitive and less intimidating than a dashboard full of charts and graphs. It’s a conversation with your data.

For example, consider a retailer that relies on traditional BI dashboards to derive insights about customer behavior. Their team probably spends hours deciphering the sea of visuals to forecast trends and build new visualizations. Imagine that the same insights could be obtained simply by querying, “What’s the top-selling product in summer for the last three years?” What do you think users would prefer?

The main benefits, as I see them are:

  1. Simplicity: By reducing the user’s need to navigate multiple data layers, LLMs offer a more straightforward path to answers.
  2. Customizability: Users don’t get one-size-fits-all answers. Each query can generate a specific response based on the user’s unique needs.
  3. Adaptability: LLMs can be trained and re-trained, allowing the system to evolve with changing business needs and user requirements.
  4. Reduced Cognitive Load: Users are spared from interpreting complex visual data as they receive direct answers to their queries.

Accelerating the Path to Product-Market Fit

Achieving Product-Market Fit (PMF) has always been the holy grail for startups and new products. It signifies the point where a product’s capabilities align perfectly with market needs, assuring sustainable growth. Traditional UI-based products often face a prolonged and iterative process to reach PMF, primarily because of the time-consuming user feedback loops on interface usability, design, and functionality.

With the integration of LLM-driven UI, this trajectory toward PMF can be significantly expedited. Here’s how:

  1. Instant Feedback: The chat itself is the best ‘feature requests generator’ ever seen by design! Users can directly voice their needs, ask questions, or provide suggestions via the LLM interface. This direct communication channel bypasses traditional feedback forms and UI usability tests, allowing product teams to glean real-time insights. Got the same question from multiple clients? There’s your next killer feature.
  2. Rapid Iteration: thanks to their conversational nature, LLMs allow quicker updates based on user feedback. Instead of redesigning entire UI elements, product teams can fine-tune the model’s responses or enhance its understanding, ensuring a better user experience.
  3. Customizable User Journeys: LLM interfaces adapt to individual user needs, offering personalized experiences. This dynamic adaptation means that the product feels ‘right’ for a broader spectrum of users, enhancing satisfaction and, by extension, PMF chances.
  4. Reduced Friction Points: Traditional UIs often suffer from pain points related to navigation, accessibility, or information overload. LLMs simplify interactions, directly addressing queries and minimizing potential friction. A seamless user experience can drastically improve product adoption rates and help achieve PMF faster.

In essence, LLM-driven UIs, with their adaptability and directness, act as accelerators in the journey toward Product-Market Fit. They reduce the barriers between users and the product, fostering a deeper connection and understanding, which is pivotal for hitting that PMF sweet spot.

The Future Is Hybrid

The transition towards LLM-driven interfaces doesn’t necessarily spell the end for traditional UIs. Instead, it opens up an avenue for hybrid systems, where the strengths of both paradigms are harmoniously integrated. Such systems would offer users the flexibility of dashboards and LLM-powered chat interfaces tailored to their comfort and needs.

Consider a scenario where a data scientist needs an in-depth analysis, sifting through layered data representations. Traditional dashboards’ granular control and comprehensive visualizations are irreplaceable in such cases. On the other hand, a marketing executive, who requires quick answers or a summarized overview, might find conversing with the LLM interface more efficient and straightforward.

Hybrid systems also cater to the varying degrees of tech-savviness among users. While some might revel in the novelty and intuitiveness of conversational models, others might prefer the familiarity and structured presentation of classic dashboards.

Furthermore, the synergy between visual representation and conversational UI can be incredibly potent. Users could start with a broad query in the LLM interface. Once they receive initial insights, they could dive deeper into specific visual data representations to explore nuances and correlations further.

By offering this dual approach, hybrid systems ensure businesses don’t have to make a binary choice between the old and the new. They can enjoy the advantages of both, ensuring wider adaptability, user satisfaction, and a smoother transition into the future of data interaction.

The Mechanics of the Shift: Bridging Databases and LLMs

At the heart of this UI revolution lies a relatively straightforward mechanism. Traditional BI platforms pull, process, and display data from vast databases. This involves fixed algorithms that determine which data is displayed and how. The same foundational principle applies in the LLM-driven paradigm, but the presentation layer is radically different. All domain-specific data still resides in an organized database. However, instead of relying on pre-determined algorithms and static dashboards for display, an LLM acts as an intermediary. Users pose questions in natural language, and the LLM translates these queries into actionable database commands. The database then furnishes the requested data, which the LLM subsequently translates into an understandable, conversational response for the user. The result? Instead of navigating a maze of charts and filters, users engage in fluid, intuitive dialogues with their data. It combines cutting-edge NLP technology with structured data storage, offering unprecedented accessibility and ease.

To Summarize

The advent of LLMs is undeniably transforming the landscape of UI, especially in the BI domain. As product managers, it’s vital to recognize this shift and adapt accordingly. While traditional dashboards will still hold value in many contexts, the convenience and intuitiveness of conversational UIs powered by LLMs cannot be ignored. For those product managers who haven’t yet embraced this change, it’s time to tune in. The future of user interface is conversational, and it’s already here.

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