"This third method of user interface design solves the problems of both of the previous two. I call it idiomatic because it is based on the way we learn and use idioms, or figures of speech, like 'beat around the bush' or 'cool.' They are easily understood but not in the same way metaphors are. There is no bush and nobody is beating anything. We understand the idiom because we have learned it and because it is distinctive. Pretty simple, huh? This is where the human mind is really outstanding, mastering learning and remembering idioms very easily without having to depend on comparing them to known situations or understanding how they work. It has to, because most idioms don't have any metaphoric meaning at all. Most of the controls on a GUI interface are idioms. Splitters, winders, comboboxes and scrollbars are things we learn idiomatically rather than intuit metaphorically.
We tend to think that learning is hard because of the conditioning we have from the technology paradigm. Those old user interfaces were very hard to learn because you also had to understand how they worked. Most of what we know we learn without understanding; things like faces, social interactions, attitudes, the arrangement of rooms and furniture in our houses and offices. We don't 'understand' why someone's face is composed the way it is, but we 'know' their face. We recognize it because we have looked at it and memorized it, and it wasn't that difficult.
The familiar mouse is not metaphoric of anything but rather is learned idiomatically. That scene in Star Trek IV where Scotty returns to twentieth-century Earth and tries to speak into a mouse is one of the few parts of that movie that is not fiction. There is nothing about the mouse that indicates its purpose or use, nor is it comparable to anything else in our experience, so learning it is not intuitive. However, learning to point at things with a mouse is incredibly easy. Someone probably spent all of three seconds showing it to you your first time, and you mastered it from that instant on. We don't know or care how mice work and yet we can operate them just fine. That is idiomatic learning.
The key observation about idioms is that although they must be learned, good ones only need to be learned once. It is quite easy to learn idioms like 'cool' or 'politically correct' or 'kick the bucket' or 'the lights are on but nobody's home' or 'in a pickle' or 'inside the beltway' or 'take the red-eye' or 'grunge.' The human mind is capable of picking up an idiom like one of the above from a single hearing. It is similarly easy to learn idioms like checkboxes, radiobuttons, pushbuttons, close boxes, pulldown menus, buttcons, tabs, comboboxes, keyboards, mice and pens.
This idea of taking a simple action or symbol and imbuing it with meaning is familiar to marketing professionals. Synthesizing idioms is the essence of product branding, whereby a company takes a product or company name and imbues it with a desired meaning. Tylenol is a meaningless word, an idiom, but the McNeil company has spent millions to make you associate that word with safe, simple, trustworthy pain relief. Of course, idioms are visual, too. The golden arches of MacDonalds, the three diamonds of Mitsubishi, the five interlocking rings of the Olympics, even Microsoft's flying window are non-metaphoric idioms that are instantly recognizable and imbued with common meaning.
Ironically, much of the familiar GUI baggage often thought to be metaphoric is actually idiomatic. Such artifacts as window close boxes, resizable windows, infinitely nested file folders and clicking and dragging are non-metaphoric operations-they have no parallel in the real world. They derive their strength only from their easy idiomatic learnability."
(Alan Cooper, 1995)
Alan Cooper (1995). "The Myth of Metaphor", Visual Basic Programmer's Journal.
"I identify a two-decade period - roughly speaking 1985-2005 - as the pioneering experimental period of (computer based) interactive art. Crucial to the understanding of work in this period is the blindingly rapid development of the technological context. At the beginning of the period the graphical user interface was a novelty, the internet barely existed, the web was a decade away, interactivity was an intriguing concept. The production of acceptably high resolution illusionistic digital pictures (still frames) was an active research area and a megabyte of RAM was something luxurious.
The period neatly brackets the emergence of most of the major technological milestones which now undergird digital culture and ubiquitous computing: WYSIWYG, digital multimedia, hypermedia, virtual reality, the internet, the world wide web, digital video, real-time graphics, digital 3D, mobile telephony, GPS, Bluetooth and other mobile and wireless communication systems. It was a period of rapid technological change, euphoria and hype."
(Simon Penny, 2011)
Simon Penny (2011). "Towards a Performative Aesthetics of Interactivity", Fibreculture Journal, issue 19 2011: Ubiquity.
Fig.1 Sniff and Performative Ecologies were included in Emergence, a show of Artificial Life Art curated by Simon Penny and David Familian at the Beall Center for Art and Technology, University of California Irvine, December 2009 – April 2010. Regrettably Performative Ecologies did not function as designed during the exhibition.
"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)
"Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality is an overview of the pioneering artists and scientists who have brought about the dissolution of boundaries that have traditionally existed between the artistic and technological disciplines. The course surveys the work and ideas of artists who have explored new interactive and interdisciplinary forms, as well as engineers and mathematicians who have developed information technologies and influential scientific and philosophical ideologies that have influenced the arts. Seminal artistic movements and genres will be explored, such as: the Futurists, Bauhaus, kinetic sculpture, Happenings, video art, electronic theater, etc. It is a study of the invention of information technologies and new human-machine paradigms that have come to define the medium of the personal computer, including: cybernetics, augmented intelligence, hypertext, human-computer symbiosis, graphical user interface, etc.
This broad historical analysis helps illuminate an understanding of the emerging digital arts and its aesthetics, strategies, trends, and socio-cultural aspirations. Central to this analysis is an understanding of key concepts for the interpretation of evolving multimedia forms: including integration, interactivity, hypermedia, immersion, and narrativity. The course reveal hows these primary elements of contemporary media have roots in electronic and performance art prior to the digital era."