I watched Microsoft’s 2011 Productivity Future Vision before reading Bret Victor’s “Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design.” The “Vision” video struck me because of the limited options these imagined systems seem to provide their users. They didn’t seem to allow for much in the way of individual expression because they relied so much on predicting what looked like a very limited set of actions. These limitations make the interactions appear elegant in their simplicity, but lack a “human” feeling even as the video demonstrates a belief that unobtrusive almost-invisible technologies will bring all kinds of people together.
Bret Victor’s “rant”—a response article from a seemingly disgruntled former Human Interface Inventor at Apple—was most concerned by the Vision’s excessive use of hand gestures to control screens he described as “pictures under glass.” None of the screens had any texture to them, and in Victor’s view this Vision neglects the most important elements of human capabilities. As a musician and person who likes to see live music, I think a lot about gesture—the best performances tend to have motion that resonates with the music to create the complete experience. And I’ve never been very impressed by the gestures of a laptop/iPad musician—the best of these types of performers always incorporate some kind of external controller or at least a dance/movement that is a response to the music rather than an interaction. As an iPhone user I had recently been thinking about how much I miss being able to feel the keys as I type. I had never considered quite how elemental this tactile sense can be in our interactions (for example I’m realizing how much I love the way my hands “feel” which page I’m on in a book and how much I wish that I was reading this article in a book…). I’d also never thought about how insignificant the “swipe” gesture that we use to control tables/iPhone/Future Vision interactions is in relation to the “four fundamental grips.” I also took note of Victor’s definition of a “tool” as something that amplifies human capability to allow us to do what we want/need to do, and I’m inspired by his belief that it’s up to us to use existing tools to create new ones that will shape our future.
Chris Crawford’s Art of Interaction Design helped me define “interactivity” and articulate why I am so excited about ITP’s approach. He defines interaction as a cycle of engagement in which two actors 1. listen, 2. think, and 3. speak. Listening requires understanding/comprehension, thinking requires interestingness, and the response (“speaking”) requires clear communication. All three are necessary for the action to be an interaction, there can be no “weak links,” otherwise it might be more like a reaction (i.e. reading a book), or participation (i.e. dancing). The interaction can take place between two actors whether they are human or not, and I love the analogy to conversation.
I had never really understood a distinction between an Interaction Designer and a User Interface Designer, but now I understand that the former is the holistic approach that incorporates both form and function. User Inteface optimizes design (speaking) but doesn’t touch the thinking side of things the way that interaction design does. Crawford believes we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in which a younger, less technical (i.e. math/science) but more “webby” generation of Interaction Designers will draw on their arts/humanities backgrounds while incorporating the wisdom of User Interface to become the new norm. So I’m glad I’m in this program.