Sunday, November 23, 2008

The future of the click

Raskin's zoom interface ...

"Imagine you are flying high above a wide plain. Far below, vague rectangular shapes cover the ground in every direction. Swooping down, you find that these are not fields or even city blocks, but words and images.

Bold labels are stamped on the ground and flying lower you can make out activity beside each one. Off to your left flow the pages of a report you've been writing, while to your right a newly arrived email is springing up.

In the distance you spot your music collection neatly arrayed.

This little flight of fancy is based on one of the dreams of the late Jef Raskin, a key figure in Apple's Macintosh project in the early 1980s. He helped shape the way we interact with computers today.

Raskin called it the zooming user interface, or ZIP for short, and it replaces the familiar icons and windows with an infinite, zoomable plane holding all your information and activities. It sounds outlandish, but Raskin was convinced of its superiority.

Computers have come a long way in the last 20 years, but as we got better at making computers talk to one another, the interface between humans and computers stagnated.

The windows and icons may look different now, but they're still windows and icons. It's a lot like the '50s and '60s, when American car makers released new models each year with drastically altered body shapes but very little new under the bonnet.

According to some experts, even Apple – once the paragon of user friendliness – has lost its way.

There is more to a user interface than looks. Just as a chair is more comfortable if it is designed with the body's quirks in mind, an understanding of psychology is key to making machines easy to understand and use.

Usability experts know it is better to adapt the workings of machines to the way people think than to force people to adapt to the machines.

Taken to an extreme, this lands you with ideas like the ZIP, but these are unlikely to catch on anytime soon.

Radical user interface schemes may be provably easier to use, and even achieve popularity in niche applications, but most of us are just too set in our ways to switch overnight.

However, new technology is slowly driving change."    (Continued via, Hayden Walles)    [Usability Resources]


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