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The Idiocy of Big, Bold Strokes
or
"Yet Another Interface Designed to Screw Me"

You might read the article and come back. Text is good at waiting for you!

I get a certain degree of frustration when it comes to every design student who doodles up a "revolutionary user interface" or even every engineer who bother to come up with one and put it together. I get it even more for the linked terrible essay, because as meager as a silly design is, there's something worse about someone (pardon the pun) hand-waving about how folks need to get inspired and creative and out of the box without even giving that little an offering. Doubly so when these exactly arguments have been thoughtlessly spouted by numerous folks over the last 30+ years.

Now, whether you're a designer or an engineer or someone who just thinks SF depictions of user interfaces need to get more "handsy", let me say a few quick things to you.

* Straight-facedly tell me that during this all paradigm-breaking visionary thought, you've spent a single damn moment thinking about how a disabled person will use this interface. In all my reading and surfing of such discussions, the next person to say "yes" will be the very first. This essay's particularly bad because Bret Victor literally denies the humanity of anyone who doesn't have normal manual dexterity - but the problem is endemic. The more an interface requires normal human ability to use, the more human disability becomes a penalty to use it, and the more you've gratuitously shut people out of your vision of the future because they can't pantomime opening a jar and shooting a freethrow in order to open their email inbox. As +Alexander Williams has said about a number of real and fictional UI designs, "Yet another interface designed to screw me."

* Pretending that there aren't already people who live with disabilities, explain what happens when you, able-bodied guy, hurt your hand or sprain your ankle. I can type or use an iPad while having hand injuries that would keep me from doing much more intricate manipulations. Being laid up with a broken leg isn't an impediment to that, either. I'd be helpless in either case in this sort of "Look at all the joints and muscles you have to express yourself with - get wiggling!" world.

* Now, finally, tell me what the able-bodied, uninjured, carefully-stretched and limbered-up people actually get out of this. Ooh, yes, it's visually more interesting for an observer, whether a viewer or a reader. That's why VR interfaces were so interesting to people in the 90s. But what's the benefit I'm supposed to get by actually using these interfaces, aside from satisfying someone's idea of how expressive the human body can be? That's the sort of question that eventually killed virtual reality, and high-dexterity haptic interfaces aren't offering much better.
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4 comments
 
Damnit, man, you ripped off all my solid points of response. You bastard.

Leaving that aside, I would love to take these bright lights of design genius and point them at the last 40 years of interface design and ask them why they think we still use and prefer mice to touchpads, even though we've had both stylus and fingertip pads for over a decade. Because people feel the sense of control with a mouse; direct, 1:1 representation. Not everyone uses a stylus interface; why? Because it's a very specific, very learned haptic device, one that requires tonnes of learning and practice to use well, which is exactly why artists use them and the rest of us blow them off.

I use an ancient M90-style IBM keyboard that makes that hungus chunk-chunk noise when I type because I love the feedback of it, exactly what this guy goes on about. He misses one of the essentials of the nature of interacting with it, though; it's precise. Pinching, squeezing, grabbing, sticking your arm out in front of you and holding it there for an hour while you work on something? It's Gorilla Arm Syndrome; no one will ever use those interfaces. Ever.

One day the designers of touch-slide UIs will figure out that the problem with putting controls for your phone / tablet at the top of the screen is your fingers aren't invisible. But that's a different rant.

Folks, here's a hint: If you ever feel the urge to ramble on at length critically about a subject without once having a suggestion for doing it better, please proceed to the red zone marked Fuck Off And Die. If you're a young, rebellious kind of guy who thinks bold, pastel typography is badass, you get to visit the red zone twice.

(My own feeling about the Microsoft Future is mixed. It screams for Gorilla Arm Syndrome everywhere, but on other other hand, everything is touchable. You can throw up interfaces on everything; I can have one on the desk, you can poke the TV, she can caress the arms of the chair, we all carry pocket fold-screens ... From my perspective, it's extra awesome at the same time as trying to screw me, and I respect that.)
 
1) I'm pretty sure this guy thinks keyboards and whatnot are quite beneath The Future of Interface Design.

2) Actually, a lot of the material I've been perusing as I'm gearing up my brain to start making mobile-friend websites has emphasized that someone using their thumb has a much easier time with the bottom of the screen. I tend to poke with my index finger, but my meaty digits drive home a crucial point - fingers are a damned blunt instrument for poking at things. This is a good part of why I use a trackball. :)
 
Re #2: I use a mouse with my toes, and it's out of line of sight under the desk. Your argument is invalid! I mean, your meaty digits are no impediment. :P

I much prefer my mobile interfaces with buttons at the bottom, which really irks me at the one thing about Google's mobile designs I hate, all the confirmations are at the top.
 
Re the invalidity of #2 - Considering you're dismissing almost precisely the opposite of what I said, I think not. :P
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