Global Moxie

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“Buttons Were an Inspired UI Hack, but Now We’ve Got Better Options”

The good folks at O’Reilly interviewed me this week about how new technologies change how we should think about interface design as both consumers and designers.

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The good folks at O’Reilly interviewed me this week about how new technologies change how we should think about interface design as both consumers and designers. It's a long interview, but here's a quick excerpt:

It's a really exciting time for interaction design because so many new technologies are becoming mature and affordable. Touch got there a few years ago. Speech is just now arriving. Computer vision with face recognition and gesture recognition like Kinect are coming along. So, we have all these areas where computers are learning to understand our particularly human forms of communication.

In the past, we had to learn to act and think like the machine. At the command line, we had to write in the computer's language, not our own. The desktop graphical user interface was a big step forward in making things more humane through visuals, but it was still oriented around how computers saw the world, not humans. When you consider the additions of touch, speech, facial expression, and physical gesture, you have nearly the whole range of human (and humane) communication tools. As computers learn the subtleties of those expressions, our interfaces can become more human and more intuitive, too.

Touchscreens are leading this charge for now, but touch isn't appropriate in every context. Speech is obviously great for the car, for walking, for any context where you need your eyes elsewhere. We're going to see interfaces that use these different modes of communication in context-appropriate combinations. But that means we have to start thinking hard about how our content works in all these different contexts. So many are struggling just to figure out how to make the content adapt to a smaller screen. How about how your content sounds when spoken? How about when it can be touched, or how it should respond to physical gestures or facial expressions? There's lots of work ahead.

Here's the whole thing.

And hey, if this stuff interests you and you happen to be in Austin for SXSW this week, I'm giving a talk about the future of touch-based interfaces on Friday. In particular, I'm focusing on how you can use gestures to create experiences that are more fun, more intuitive, and more efficient. At least as important, the talk will explore how to make gestures easy to discover, too:

Teaching Touch: Tapworthy Touchscreen Design
Friday, March 9, 3:30–4:30pm
Ballroom A, Austin Convention Center

Discover the rules of thumb for finger-friendly design. Touch gestures are sweeping away buttons, menus and windows from mobile devices—and even from the next version of Windows. Find out why those familiar desktop widgets are weak replacements for manipulating content directly, and learn to craft touchscreen interfaces that effortlessly teach users new gesture vocabularies.

The challenge: gestures are invisible, without the visual cues offered by buttons and menus. As your touchscreen app sheds buttons, how do people figure out how to use the damn thing? Learn to lead your audience by the hand (and fingers) with practical techniques that make invisible gestures obvious. Designer Josh Clark (author of O'Reilly books "Tapworthy" and "Best iPhone Apps") mines a variety of surprising sources for interface inspiration and design patterns. Along the way, discover the subtle power of animation, why you should be playing lots more video games, and why a toddler is your best beta tester.

See you there!

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