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24 OCTOBER 2014

What if scenario used to paper prototype DynaBook tablet interface

"In 1968 Kay created a very interesting concept – the Dynabook. He wanted to make A Personal Computer For Children Of All Ages – a thin portable computer, highly dynamic device that weighed no more than two pounds The ideas led to the development of the Xerox Alto prototype, which was originally called the interim Dynabook. It embodied all the elements of a graphical user interface, or GUI, as early as 1972. The software component of this research was Smalltalk, which went on to have a life of its own independent of the Dynabook concept."

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CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
18 JUNE 2014

Calm Technology: designs which require only peripheral attention

"The most potentially interesting, challenging, and profound change implied by the ubiquitous computing era is a focus on calm. If computers are everywhere they better stay out of the way, and that means designing them so that the people being shared by the computers remain serene and in control. Calmness is a new challenge that UC brings to computing. When computers are used behind closed doors by experts, calmness is relevant to only a few. Computers for personal use have focused on the excitement of interaction. But when computers are all around, so that we want to compute while doing something else and have more time to be more fully human, we must radically rethink the goals, context and technology of the computer and all the other technology crowding into our lives. Calmness is a fundamental challenge for all technological design of the next fifty years. The rest of this paper opens a dialogue about the design of calm technology. ...

We use 'periphery' to name what we are attuned to without attending to explicitly. Ordinarily when driving our attention is centered on the road, the radio, our passenger, but not the noise of the engine. But an unusual noise is noticed immediately, showing that we were attuned to the noise in the periphery, and could come quickly to attend to it.

It should be clear that what we mean by the periphery is anything but on the fringe or unimportant. What is in the periphery at one moment may in the next moment come to be at the center of our attention and so be crucial. The same physical form may even have elements in both the center and periphery. The ink that communicates the central words of a text also peripherally clues us into the genre of the text though choice of font and layout.

A calm technology will move easily from the periphery of our attention, to the center, and back. This is fundamentally encalming, for two reasons.

First, by placing things in the periphery we are able to attune to many more things than we could if everything had to be at the center. Things in the periphery are attuned to by the large portion of our brains devoted to peripheral (sensory) processing. Thus the periphery is informing without overburdening.

Second, by recentering something formerly in the periphery we take control of it. Peripherally we may become aware that something is not quite right, as when awkward sentences leave a reader tired and discomforted without knowing why. By moving sentence construction from periphery to center we are empowered to act, either by finding better literature or accepting the source of the unease and continuing. Without centering the periphery might be a source of frantic following of fashion; with centering the periphery is a fundamental enabler of calm through increased awareness and power.

Not all technology need be calm. A calm videogame would get little use; the point is to be excited. But too much design focuses on the object itself and its surface features without regard for context. We must learn to design for the periphery so that we can most fully command technology without being dominated by it.

Our notion of technology in the periphery is related to the notion of affordances, due to Gibson and applied to technology by Gaver and Norman. An affordance is a relationship between an object in the world and the intentions, perceptions, and capabilities of a person. The side of a door that only pushes out affords this action by offering a flat pushplate. The idea of affordance, powerful as it is, tends to describe the surface of a design. For us the term 'affordance ' does not reach far enough into the periphery where a design must be attuned to but not attended to."

(Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, 1997)

"The Coming Age of Calm Technology," Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, In Beyond Calculation: The Next Fifty Years of Computing, Peter J. Denning and Robert M. Metcalfe, New York, Springer–Verlag 1997.

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1997affordancesambient awarenessaround usattentionattunementbecoming invisible • blend into the background • calm • calm technologycalmness • distributed computing • Donald Norman • encalm • encalming technology • engaged interaction • everyday thingsexcitement • explicitly • human computer interactioninteraction designJames GibsonJohn Seely Brown • Mark Weiser • peripheral attention • periphery • sensory phenomena • sensory processing • technological change • technological design • technology affordancesubiquitous computing • William Gaver • Xerox PARC

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
02 APRIL 2014

Designing the Star User Interface: Familiar User's Conceptual Model

"A user's conceptual model is the set of concepts a person gradually acquires to explain the behavior of a system, whether it be a computer system, a physical system, or a hypothetical system. It is the model developed in the mind of the user that enables that person to understand and interact with the system. The first task for a system designer is to decide what model is preferable for users of the system. This extremely important step is often neglected or done poorly. The Star designers devoted several work–years at the outset of the project discussing and evolving what we considered an appropriate model for an office information system: the metaphor of a physical office.

The designer of a computer system can choose to pursue familiar analogies and metaphors or to introduce entirely new functions requiring new approaches. Each option has advantages and disadvantages. We decided to create electronic counterparts to the physical objects in an office: paper, folders, file cabinets, mail boxes, and so on–an electronic metaphor for the office. We hoped this would make the electronic 'world' seem more familiar, less alien, and require less training. (Our initial experiences with users have confirmed this.) We further decided to make the electronic analogues be concrete objects. Documents would be more than file names on a disk; they would also be represented by pictures on the display screen. They would be selected by pointing to them with the mouse and clicking one of the buttons. Once selected, they would be moved, copied, or deleted by pushing the appropriate key. Moving a document became the electronic equivalent of picking up a piece of paper and walking somewhere with it. To file a document, you would move it to a picture of a file drawer, just as you take a physical piece of paper to a physical file cabinet.

The reason that the user's conceptual model should be decided first when designing a system is that the approach adopted changes the functionality of the system. An example is electronic mail. Most electronic–mail systems draw a distinction between messages and files to be sent to other people. Typically, one program sends messages and a different program handles file transfers, each with its own interface. But we observed that offices make no such distinction. Everything arrives through the mail, from one–page memos to books and reports, from intraoffice mail to international mail. Therefore, this became part of Star's physical–office metaphor. Star users mail documents of any size, from one page to many pages. Messages are short documents, just as in the real world. User actions are the same whether the recipients are in the next office or in another country.

A physical metaphor can simplify and clarify a system. In addition to eliminating the artificial distinctions of traditional computers, it can eliminate commands by taking advantage of more general concepts. For example, since moving a document on the screen is the equivalent of picking up a piece of paper and walking somewhere with it, there is no 'send mail' command. You simply move it to a picture of an out–basket. Nor is there a 'receive mail' command. New mail appears in the in–basket as it is received. When new mail is waiting, an envelope appears in the picture of the in–basket (see figure 1). This is a simple, familiar, nontechnical approach to computer mail. And it's easy once the physical–office metaphor is adopted!

While we want an analogy with the physical world for familiarity, we don't want to limit ourselves to its capabilities. One of the raisons d'être for Star is that physical objects do not provide people with enough power to manage the increasing complexity of the 'information age.' For example, we can take advantage of the computer's ability to search rapidly by providing a search function for its electronic file drawers, thus helping to solve the long–standing problem of lost files."

(David Smith, Charles Irby, Ralph Kimball, Bill Verplank and Eric Harslem, 1982)

David Canfield Smith, Charles Irby, Ralph Kimball, Bill Verplank and Eric Harslem (1982). "Designing the Star User Interface: The Star user interface adheres rigorously to a small set of principles designed to make the system seem friendly by simplifying the human–machine interface." Reprinted from Byte, issue 4/1982, pp. 242–282.

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1982 • alien environment • analogy • Bill Verplank • black and white • Byte (magazine) • Charles Irby • common metaphorscomputer history • computer system • conceptual model • concrete objects • David Smith • desktop metaphor • digital analogues • display screen • electronic mail • electronic metaphor • electronic world • Eric Harslem • familiar analogies • familiarityfiles and foldersfiling cabinetfolderGUIinformation ageinterface metaphor • international mail • intraoffice mail • mailbox • memo • office environment • office metaphorold-world equivalents • operational behaviour • physical metaphor • physical world • Ralph Kimball • resemblanceskeuomorphismvisual analogyvisual metaphorWYSIWYG • Xerox Corporation • Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)Xerox PARCXerox Star PC

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
03 JANUARY 2014

Interface functions: conceptually similar operationally different

"I am going to argue that 'media independence' does not just happen by itself. For a technique to work with various data types, programmers have to implement a different method for each data type. Thus, media–independent techniques are general concepts translated into algorithms, which can operate on particular data types. Let us look at some examples.

Consider the omnipresent cut and paste. The algorithm to select a word in a text document is different from the algorithm to select a curve in a vector drawing, or the algorithm to select a part of a continuous tone (i.e. raster) image. In other words, 'cut and paste' is a general concept that is implemented differently in different media software depending on which data type this software is designed to handle. (In Larry Tesler's original implementation of the universal commands concept done at PARC in 1974–5, it only worked for text editing.) Although cut, copy, paste, and a number of similar 'universal commands' are available in all contemporary GUI applications for desktop computers (but not necessarily in mobile phone apps), what they actually do and how they do it is different from application to application.

Search operates in the same way. The algorithm to search for a particular phrase in a text document is different than the algorithm that searches for a particular face in a photo or a video clip. (I am talking here about 'content–based search,' i.e. the type of search which looks for information inside actual images, as opposed to only searching image titles and other metadata the way image search engines such as Google Image Search were doing it in the 2000s.) However, despite these differences the general concept of search is the same: locating any elements of a single media object–or any media objects in a larger set–to match particular user–defined criteria. Thus we can ask the web browser to locate all instances of a particular word in a current web page; we can ask a web search engine to locate all web pages which contain a set of keywords; and we can ask a content–based image search engine to find all images that are similar in composition to an image we provided. ...

Against these historical developments, the innovation of media software clearly stands. They bring a new set of techniques which are implemented to work across all media. Searchability, findability, linkability, multimedia messaging and sharing, editing, view control, zoom and other 'mediaindependent' techniques are viruses that infect everything software touches–and therefore in their importance they can be compared to the basic organizing principles for media and artifacts which were used for thousands of years."

(Lev Manovich, 2013, pp.113–124)

Manovich, L. (2013). "Software Takes Command", Continuum.

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1974algorithm • black box model • black box system • black box theory • content-based • content-based search • continuous tone • cut and pastedata typesdesktop computer • findability • general concepts • Google Image Search • GUI applications • high-level designimage identificationimage searchimage search engine • implemented differently • keyword search • Larry Tesler • Lev Manovich • linkability • low-level implementation • media independence • media production • media software • media-independent techniques • media-independent techniques from different implementations • metadata • polymorphism • raster imagesearch algorithmsearch engine • search phrase • search toolsearchabilitytechnology affordances • text document • text editing • text selection • TinEye • universal commands • vector graphicvisual searchweb search engineweb searchingXerox PARC

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
20 DECEMBER 2013

Kirby Ferguson: Embracing the remix

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2012Android OSAppleauthorship • behavioural finance theory • Bill BuxtonBob Dylan • borrow • Brian Burton • building on the work of others • Carter Family • celebrated creators • citation as a form of persuasioncopycopyingcopyrightcopyright law • core technology • creative workscreativitycultural productiondesign innovation • Dominic Behan • everything is a remix • good artists copy great artists steal • graphical user interfacegreat ideasHenry FordiPhone • Jean Ritchie • Jeff Han • Kirby Ferguson • loss aversion • multi-fingered gestures • multi-touch technologiesnew medianothing is original • Nottamun Town • originalityoriginality is non-existentownershipPablo Picasso • patent law • patent registration • Paul Clayton • private property • property analogy • remixremix cultureremixingrip • shameless stealing • standing on the shoulders of giants • stealing • Steve Jobs • stolen product • TED Talks • Woody Guthrie • Xerox PARC

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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