Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Neo Cons of Interaction Design

Getting a handle on the purpose of a computers and its effect on design ...

"I've been mulling over Aza Raskin's The Death of the Desktop presentation ever since I saw it at SXSW two months ago. Raskin, who is continuing the work of his father, the late Jef Raskin, had some interesting things to say that I agreed with. But I think some of his work has some serious flaws, at the core of which is what the purpose of computers is.

Before I begin, I want to note (again) that Jef Raskin's work greatly influenced me as a new interaction designer. But, as the Buddhist saying goes, if you meet your master on the road...

In his SXSW presentation, Aza Raskin outlined what he thought the things a computer (specifically interfaces, which for the point of this conversation I am going to refer to as computers) can do:

• Create content
• Navigate content
• Select content
• Transform content

In doing this, I think Raskin falls into the same trap early computer scientists fell into: thinking of the computer as just a content creator and manipulator. This is the fatal blunder of 1970s IBM's "women can store recipes on it" idea of what a personal computer would be good for. The biggest leap forward in computing came when the designers and engineers at Xerox PARC stopped thinking about the computer in this way and instead started thinking about it instead as a communication device. And we've seen what this led to: email, networks, the internet. The network is the computer now, and if you don't believe me, do what I did a few weeks ago and unplug from the internet for a few days and watch yourself squirm.

The Raskins, along with the builders of Doug Engelbart's Hyperscope, are what I call the Neo Cons of Interaction Design. These guys (and they are all men) all have grand visions for what computers should be and how everyone should use them. Which is, not surprisingly, exactly how they use computers. They are almost all engineers or computer scientists who claim to know what design is, because they have read Tufte and Norman.

The Neo Cons create these grandiose theories about what computers are for (learning, manipulating content) and want to apply a set of rules that seem obvious to them as high-end computer users. They want to recreate the past--a past that never happened, one where we all became computer scientists--in the hope that it becomes the future. The Neo Cons mean well and often have really interesting, counter-cultural ideas. And, like other Neo Cons, they are often wrong and wrong-headed."    (Continued via O Danny Boy)    [Usability Resources]

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