Gestures, Invisible Interfaces

BlackBerry Z10: Peek Interface, via Business Insider

I admit that I’ve drunk a lot of the red drink when it comes to interfaces and gestures (and I love things like what BlackBerry is doing with BB10 and the Peek/Flow feature). And at the same time, I’ve always been the type who wants to strip away as much as possible, maximize the functionality, and find pleasure in the process. If there was too much friction, it didn’t matter what it did, I didn’t like it. And as such, gestures and interfaces are a constant with me, in all areas of life, but specifically with mobile and computers.

There are a few neat articles which dive into this. The first asks if Fitts Law is broken by some of the chrome-less, gesture-embeded interfaces we are seeing around computing these days (source):

You’ve probably never heard of Fitts’ Law, but if you’ve used a computer in the past 25 years, you’ve felt its influence. Fitts’ Law mathematically models how quickly you can point to something–whether it’s with your finger, or with a device like a mouse. It’s a foundational principle of human-computer interaction in the WIMP era–“windows, icons, menus, pointer”–pioneered by Xerox PARC and made mainstream by the original Macintosh. It says that moving a pointer a short distance to a large target is faster than moving a larger distance to a smaller target. This has a distinctly “no duh” flavor to it, but Fitts’ Law has many fascinating and subtle implications for GUI design. If you ever wondered why Apple puts its menu across the top of the screen (instead of anchoring menus to individual windows, like Microsoft does), Fitts’ Law is the reason.

Then there was this other article more or less pulling on the other side of that discussion, putting forth a side of the argument to whether or not its a good thing that an interface that disappears is one that is better (source):

…especially since Dieter Rams formalized his 10 principles of good design and said that “Good design is as little design as possible.” Except that somewhere along the line, we started to believe that “as little design as possible” means “getting out of the way”. It doesn’t.

Rams didn’t say that good design disappears completely. “As little design as possible” is not about making things invisible, it’s about “not burdening products with non-essentials”. It’s about making the right choices about what should be there, and what shouldn’t. There is nothing wrong with making the things that arein the product visible, sometimes very much so…

And if none of this makes sense to you, that’s not a bad thing. Its something that designers and engineers think about pretty often. Process folks do as well. Anything that you engage in order to get something else done is an interface, and there are moments at which the best interfaces are the ones that aren’t so easily discernable from our own physical conditions. I love the analogy that a good swordsman tells the beginner, the sword is an extension of your arm, not a tool divorced from it.

When interfaces are designed well, when even the gestures that we use to provoke them are designed well, then we find a sense of freedom or loss that makes something about the daily interface better as Jonathan Greene says so nicely in his talking about his new Pebble smart-watch (source):

…This morning has been rather interesting as I’ve had the system working and am loving how infrequently I’ve had to turn the screen on to check the phone.  I may even switch the phone to silent soon to keep it all flowing on the Pebble.  In addition to the screen lighting up on notice, it vibrates quickly too so it’s unlikely you will miss anything happening. All in all, a solid addition to the gadget family.

Interfaces… its not just what you notice, but what you don’t, while in the process of living.