Monday, February 18, 2008

Waiting: A Necessary Part of Life

Interaction design is about synchronizing events of different systems ...

"Just as dirt collects in crevices, buffers collect in the interfaces between systems. It is their natural home, and life would not work without them. I have become fascinated by buffers. I see them everywhere I look. They cannot be escaped.

What is a buffer? It is a holding space between two systems, sometimes in space, sometimes in time, allowing the objects or information from one system to await the next system. The pages of this book are a buffer, holding thoughts and ideas as printed words, awaiting the time that a reader peruses them. Waiting rooms are buffers, as are memory systems, holding the information generated by one system until the next can make use of it.

Whenever two systems must interact, unless every event of one is perfectly synchronized with the events of the other, one system is going to have to wait. If the receiving system is ready first, it must delay, waiting for something to happen. If it is ready last, then if earlier arriving events are not to be lost, there must be a memory system to hold them. These memory systems have a variety of names depending upon the domain: memories, queues, buffers, inventory, waiting rooms, stock, and even books on a bookshelf (awaiting readers), food in the pantry (awaiting cooks and eaters), and any items that are stockpiled, awaiting use.

Problems arise at interface, any interface, be it person and machine, person and person, or organizational unit and organizational unit. Any place where two different entities interact is an interface, and this is where confusions arise, where conflicting assumptions are born and nourished, where synchronization difficulties proliferate as queues form and mismatched entities struggle to engage.

To the analyst, such as me, interfaces are where the fun lies. Interfaces between people, people and machines, machines and machines, people and organizations. Anytime one system or set of activities abuts another, there must be an interface. Interfaces are where problems arise, where miscommunications and conflicting assumptions collide. Mismatched anything: schedules, commuinication protocols, cultures, conventions, impedances, coding schemes, nomenclature, procedures. it is a designer's heaven and the practitioners hell. And it is where I prefer to be."    (Continued via Don Norman's    [Usability Resources]


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