Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Toward a More Human Interface Device: Integrating the Virtual and Physical

The new user interface devices will influence the future of UI ...

"As we create our digital lives—communicating and socializing with others, collecting content for business and pleasure, building objects with software, buying products—we understand that, despite its moniker, this existence is only half virtual. While it’s a given that engaging in our digital experiences requires physical devices, it may be less obvious that the input method affects the way in which we communicate with our computers—particularly, the way we feel about the experience.

In the physical world, we don’t have to think about manipulating an object—we just do it. Turn a photograph around on a table? Pick it up to take a closer look? Put it into a file folder? All of these are purely automatic actions.

In the virtual world, though, we constantly have to think about how to take such actions. Does performing a particular action require a single click or a double-click? Can I drag that file to move it or launch an application, or do I need to use a dialog box? What’s the keyboard shortcut for magnifying images in this particular program again? In the real world, we don’t need to double-click a piece of paper to read it or move it. But in the virtual world, we require abstractions and use intermediaries to accomplish our tasks for us—like engineers who have to manipulate a robot arm to move radioactive material around inside a reactor. (Let’s hope, as UX designers, that our users do not see the interfaces we create as being toxic!)

For nearly 25 years, the keyboard and the mouse have provided the physical connection that mediates most of the interactions we have with computer technology. But human communication is nuanced and complex, filled with physical elements, subtle signals, facial expressions, and gestures. With a touch, a glance, or a motion, we can convey a host of information. Till now, such subtleties have been largely absent from our day-to-day interactions with computers. However, gestures are beginning to make their way into our interactive vocabulary through a variety of innovative input devices that—although not new inventions—have reached a tipping point when it comes to affordability, availability, and consumer acceptance. From video games to mobile products to notebook and desktop computers, we are seeing an explosion of alternative input technologies and methods—touch screens, touch pads, tablets, wearable interfaces, and other devices.

For UX designers, these input devices open up opportunities for creating richer experiences that are more immersive and natural—expanding the ways in which people interact with computers. In the near future, we’ll be designing interactions that are not only usable and useful, but also deepen people’s connection with their technology. And as our dual lives continue to evolve, the most compelling products and services will help us bridge the gap between the virtual and the physical worlds."    (Continued via UXmatters, Jonathan Follett)    [Usability Resources]

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