uk-design List On a Roll

There have been some cracking threads on the Chinwag uk-design list over the last couple of weeks. I say that because not only am I participating in my usual “you’re all stupid” kinda way, but there are some really excellent people coming out of the woodwork. For example, the celebrated Nico Macdonald, who (I like to think) I have been putting on the spot in a gentlemanly fashion about his spatial interface musings, etc. Here’s peek:

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Nico Macdonald []
> Sent: 18 August 2004 13:24
> To: Jonathan
> Subject: Re: [uk-design] GUI innovation (was Trademarking)

> As I note in a forthcoming Guardian Online article:
> "There is little serious or practical discussion in the IT 
> industry about the future of the GUI, and how we might move on. 
> We have few grand visions, and even fewer leaders capable of 
> implementing them. Instead we are fiddling with and tweaking a 
> late-70s legacy.

How about this for an alternative interpretation: What is so wrong with a late-70’s legacy,
and could the basic ideas you seem to be fighting against simply be “good enough” to remain
fundamentally unchanged? The Stephenson rail gauge, the QUERTY keyboard, 240 volts, VHS tapes…
None of them were the best at the time, and none are the best now, but their continued use
shows that they meet – and now feed in to – the requirements placed on them. The arguments
around them at their inception have moved on to higher things, and there’s nothing to say the
same thing can’t happen with the way we interact with computers. We can’t really afford to keep
ploughing up and re-seeding something as important as the interface to the personal computer, can we?
Well, as long as that computer has a screen to look at, anyway.

As for things that are not documents, and the need to deal with large numbers of objects perhaps
visually or semantically – there is still a chance you may be missing the point if the *need*
to do so never truly materialises. User testing of radial menus, for instance, has shown them to
be inferior in terms of learnabilty compared to more traditional methods (I’ll drag up the
reference for that if you want). That doesn’t make them bad, it means that they may be good for
specialist use by trained operators. That’s par for the course in other fields: court stenographers
use those weird little piano keyboards to type at massive speeds using syllabic chords, but it
takes them years to learn how. Similarly with claims by HCI academics that businesses would benefit
from being able to visualise their MIS data. The idea’s been around for about 30 years, but spatial
interfaces aren’t exactly the first thing Sir John Harvey-Jones recommends to struggling firms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to belittle your ability to identify or theorise about different
ways of doing things in HCI (which would appear to be far superior to my own), just that you seem
to be missing some wider aspects of things like the social or historical context for these things.
Like Clay Shirky says, whenever you think about what *should* happen, it distracts you from
thinking about what will.

> I guess you are referring to the lack of a desktop trash in MacOS

Ah, no. I was referring to Job’s supposed quote about getting rid of the spatial Finder in favour
the more “Explorer” like file manger in OSX. “Spatial” here simply means file organisation
“in space,” as in a desktop with folders scattered across it, or sub-folders with files arbitrarily
grouped together by the user, given colours, etc. He is said to have retorted that the old finder
“forced users to be janitors,” which he thought was a bad thing.

Last I looked, there was a trash can on the desktop of OSX. Was there not one at some point?


Lord, I hope Dr. Mischa Weiss-Lijn isn’t reading this! Let’s see how he replies.