Sunday, April 15, 2007

Magic Ink: Information Software and the Graphical Interface

Magic Ink now available online ..

"The ubiquity of frustrating, unhelpful software interfaces has motivated decades of research into “Human-Computer Interaction.” In this paper, I suggest that the long-standing focus on “interaction” may be misguided. For a majority subset of software, called “information software,” I argue that interactivity is actually a curse for users and a crutch for designers, and users’ goals can be better satisfied through other means.

Information software design can be seen as the design of context-sensitive information graphics. I demonstrate the crucial role of information graphic design, and present three approaches to context-sensitivity, of which interactivity is the last resort. After discussing the cultural changes necessary for these design ideas to take root, I address their implementation. I outline a tool which may allow designers to create data-dependent graphics with no engineering assistance, and also outline a platform which may allow an unprecedented level of implicit context-sharing between independent programs. I conclude by asserting that the principles of information software design will become critical as technology improves.

Although this paper presents a number of concrete design and engineering ideas, the larger intent is to introduce a “unified theory” of information software design, and provide inspiration and direction for progressive designers who suspect that the world of software isn’t as flat as they’ve been told.

Scope and terminology
“Software,” as used here, refers to user-facing personal desktop software, whether on a native or web platform. “Software design” describes all appearance and behaviors visible to a user; it approaches software as a product. “Software engineering” implements the design on a computer; it approaches software as a technology. These are contentious definitions; hopefully, this paper itself will prove far more contentious."    (Continued via Bret Victor)    [Usability Resources]

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