In re: The Future of Interaction Design

My last semester at UGA I took a class called Human-Computer Interaction, or HCI. The entirety of the class was studying what we in the industry call “User Interfaces” or UIs – the glue that allows you to interact with your computer. Most of the time, when people talk about UI they are referring to a Graphical User Interface (GUI), such as the design of a webpage or some application. However, for all intents and purposes – keyboard and mice are UIs. So is a trackpad. It’s a way that users can interact with their machines. Want to know what else is a UI? A touchscreen.

Contrary to popular misconception, the idea of an iPad isn’t anything new. Touch screens have been around for decades in various shapes and forms. Of course, the technology got a heck of a lot better, but it’s all the same really. It’s this idea of direct manipulation – or being able to directly impact the elements that you see on your screen with natural movements as opposed to learned movements. For example, “touch and drag” as opposed to “click and drag”. To the people selling tablets, this is the holy grail. Just look at any iPad Commercial. (More after the break.)

The salespeople would have us believe that this is the holy grail of technology. But today I had one of those moments where I felt as though I had been whacked on the head by a bat (I do know what that feels like), because touchscreen technology isn’t the holy grail. It’s a stepping stone.

I had this revelation today while reading Bret Victor’s article titled “A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design”. Go read it. It’s very non-technical. It’s incredibly… obvious. He first shows this video that displays some “visionary” concept of technology in the future, and then proceeds to point out some flaws in it.

Usually I don’t like to create a blog post unless I feel I have something significant to add to the conversation. I’m making an exception this evening. I’m really convinced that this is something that everyone in the tech industry… scratch that… everyone in every industry should read.

What jobs do you do on an iPad, for example, that would be easier if you had more actions you could do? Have you been disappointed by the “pictures under glass” effect? Leave me some love in the comments and let me know.

On an unrelated note, I have some exciting news coming in a few weeks. Stay tuned.