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Which clippings match 'Desktop Metaphor' keyword pg.1 of 2
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.




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


Simon Perkins
29 OCTOBER 2013

Skeuomorphism has fallen out of favour in recent years

"Skeuomorphism has fallen out of favour in recent years, and is almost regarded as a dirty word by many in the design community. Apple this week announced a radical revision to the approach at its annual developer conference in California and its new mobile operating system will ditch real world visual metaphors in favour of a stripped–back minimalist approach. ... The podcast app recently lost its reel–to–reel tape deck look, a reference which would have been lost on many younger smartphone users. Not everyone will be pleased with the decision though, and some regret the decline of the skeuomorph."

(Sam Judah, 3 June 2013, BBC News Magazine)



Apple OS • binder • clipboard • de-facto symbol • desktop metaphor • envelope • golden compass • GUIinterface designinterface metaphor • jotting paper • leather-bound desk blotter • mimesismimicry • mobile operating system • nostalgic yearningoffice metaphorold-world equivalentsreal world objectsreal world visual metaphor • red wax seal • representational systemsresemblancescissorsskeuomorphskeuomorphic designskeuomorphismsoftware programme • sticky notes • trash canUIvisual metaphor • Windows 7


Simon Perkins
13 OCTOBER 2011

An interactive system defines a virtual space

"An interactive system defines a virtual space, whether the system's interface provides access to the inhospitable planet of Stroggos or the Microsoft Windows desktop. Users of both these systems interact with a place, one created by a computer and in which users and computational agents carry out their individual and collective activities. The intuitive and often–discussed benefit of a well–designed interface metaphor is that it allows users to carry over conventions from their 'real' experience when performing tasks within the interface world.

Another key and often unarticulated value of an interface arises from the interface's mimetic quality. While mimesis is often discussed by narrative theorists as a contrast to diegesis, distinguishing the concepts of showing versus telling (Aristotle), my emphasis here is to distinguish between an artifact that is intended to be an imitation of something, but is not really that thing and an artifact that is intended to be mistaken as that thing. An example of the former case would be a film of a fictional account of the D–Day landing on the beaches of Normandy. An example of the later might be a virtual reality system displaying photo–realistic graphical images of a physical space. D–Days stories like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan are, in some ways, imitations, and so are more mimetic than VR systems whose design is intended to '...produce synthetic images visually and measurably indistinguishable from real world images.' (Greenberg 1999)(pg. 45)."

(R. Michael Young, 1999)

Greenberg, D. P. 1999. 'A framework for realistic image synthesis'. Communications of the ACM 42(8):45–53.

1). R. Michael Young (1999). 'Notes on the Use of Plan Structures in the Creation of Interactive Plot', Papers from the 1999 Fall Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Symposium


1999 • AAAI • AristotleAssociation for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence • computational agents • conventionsD-Day landingdesktop metaphordiegesis • Donald P. Greenberg • fictional account • graphical images • image synthesis • imitation of something • imitations • interact with a place • interactive narrative • interactive system • interface metaphor • interface world • intuitiveMicrosoft Windowsmimesis • mimetic quality • mistaken as that thing • narrative theory • Normandy • performing tasks • photo-realistic • physical space • real experience • real world images • realism • Saving Private Ryan • showing • stories • Stroggos • synthetic images • telling • The Longest Day • usersvirtual heritagevirtual realityvirtual reality systemvirtual space • VR systems • WWII


Simon Perkins
27 APRIL 2011

An Introduction to Researchrr

"Looking for a better way to search for information on the web? Tired of navigating through links/unhelpful descriptions not content? We were too. And we made researchrr, an easy to use tool for aggregating relevant content and sources for your research and managing your workflow."

(Kevin McCabe, 25 April 2011,



2011aggregating relevant content • Barry Walsh • betacollection • college project • contentcontent integration • Dediserve • desktop metaphordiscontinuedDublinessay writing • finding aid • information on the web • Ivan Tolmachev • Kevin McCabe • knowledge integrationonline • paragraph selection • Republic of Irelandresearchresearch engineresearch sources • Researchrr • school project • searchsearch for informationstart-upstudyingtoolWeb 2.0web appweb applicationweb linksworkflow


Simon Perkins
18 MARCH 2011

The first graphical user interface using the desktop as a metaphor

"In 1973, the first graphical user interface was built at PARC, using the desktop as a metaphor. The UI introduced windows, icons, menus, file management, and tool palettes. Looking back at the first screenshots of this first GUI, the designs feel familiar even now. In 1974 PARC developed a What–You–See–Is–What–You–Get cut & paste interface, and in 1975 the demonstrated pop–up menus. The desktop concept was pushed quite a bit further by 1981 in the commercial Xerox Star PC interface, which was an important influence for the PC UI's created at Microsoft, Apple, NeXT, and Sun Microsystems in the 80's and 90's."

(Mike Kruzeniski, 17 February 2011)



Simon Perkins

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