Photos Spare Cycles MythBusters

Category: HCI

March 15, 2007

Photoshop multitouch

Admittedly, not all of this made intuitive sense to me at the first get-go and some of the interactions seemed like they required too much slow, deliberate movement (that may have just been a director's choice -- update: or its possible that this is just a conceptual mockup, i.e. fake), but an interesting take on how to port a Photoshop interface into a multitouch world. But I would be happy just to have a screen that big in the first place.

Update: eric dolecki on John Nack's blog points out that this may be a fake (i.e. concept mockup) as the UI sometimes leads the gesture.

via John Nack

January 2, 2006

Book: Design of Everyday Things

Amazon Image

meta warned me that when I read The Design of Everyday Things, I would learn very little. This is a compliment to the book, rather than a criticism. We both worked at PARC at the time and much of what is in the book is ingrained within the PARC culture. Thus, to say that I would learn very little is to say how influential the ideas of this book are. According to the Director of User Experience at TiVo, the book is somewhat of a bible. You'll find my own attempt at being Norman in "Affordances of a Seven-Foot Egg."

Another compliment I will pay this book is, in retrospect, the ideas presented seem like commonsense. As Norman dissects bad doors and light switch arrangements, the criticisms are intuitive, yet we must wonder, if this truly was commonsense, why is it so easy to find examples of bad design in everyday things? It's not hard to find a doors with "push" or "pull" signs taped on because the wrong type of handle was used. It's not hard to remember being confronted with an array of light switches and not knowing which light went with which. Sometimes the explanation is that someone was being cheap. Or lazy. But we also see simple principles violated in expensive, intensively designed products like airplanes and cars. Bad design comes with any price tag.

The most valuable aspect of the book for me is that it provides a vocabulary for being more specific about evaluating design. Norman once said something akin to, if it has poor usability, it probably got a design award. We don't do a good job separating out aesthetics and usability when we use the term design. The iPod is cited again and again as an example of "good design," but there are many usability problems. It's mappings are poor: press the center button and the next menu scrolls in from the right; press up and the previous menu scrolls in from the left; pressing left or right changes the track that's playing; rotating the scrollwheel wheel moves a linear menu up and down. The visibility is also poor: two weeks ago I taught two long-time iPod users that you can fast-forward/rewind, rate songs, and view album art if you press the center button while a song is playing.

I look forward to reading Norman's Emotional Design. I'm sure it will provide a vocabulary for discussing the good aspects of the iPod design, and then at last I can make my $billions.

Partial/ongoing notes in the extended.

Continue reading "Book: Design of Everyday Things" »

May 15, 2005

Affordances of a Seven-Foot Egg


"What are the affordances of an egg?"

gus, coming from his HCI background, asked this question after I couldn't help bringing up the Seven-Foot Art Egg (note: this post won't make any sense unless you read my original Art Egg Post).

It's such a great way to frame the Giant Egg that I can't resist carrying out an analysis. After all, if it is going to be "subject to other thoughts/acts of violence typically inflicted on seven-foot tall egg sculptures," perhaps the psychology of industrial design can shed some light on what fate(s) await Egg II (Egg I died glass-bubbly in a warehouse fire).

A popular discussion of affordances is in Don Norman's book, The Design/Psychology of Everyday Things, which serves as a bible for companies like TiVo attempting to do consumer-oriented product design. As Don Norman defines it, affordance "refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used." For example, "plates are for pushing," and "knobs are for turning."

Drawing from Palo Alto Daily News quotes, Don Norman, and my own pompous assertions, here is my list of "The Affordances of a Seven-Foot Egg":


The most common usage of an egg is, of course, cracking it open to access the contents inside. One of the acts of vandalism the PADN noted was teenagers ramming a shopping cart into the Egg, and I personally witnessed a passerby adjust his path through the plaza so that he could deliver a swift kick.

This leads us to the next affordance:

Containing (corollary to cracking/breaking)

Whether it be eggs we eat or the plastic easter eggs with their candy surprises, eggs contain stuff we want. This is a Giant Egg, so one must assume that the affordance of a Seven-Foot Tall Egg is that it contains something really good -- it's big enough to give birth to full-sized Shaq. Symbolically the Egg is supposed to contain Silicon Valley innovation, but the crowd quotes from the PADN were more mundane.

Grace, a registered nurse in San Jose, said "It's very ornate, like a time capsule -- somthing I want to open up and see if there's anything in there. It makes people think."

Another person quoted in the PADN noted the possible technological influence of the Egg on its contents:

"I like the shape, it's pretty cool," Geo said. "I wonder if there is a baby computer inside?"

$10,000 seems like quite a lot to hatch a computer -- I'm hoping for something more grandiose that still harnesses the technological potential, something representing the role of US government and Asian investment in the Silicon Valley, something like... MechaGodzilla.

The 1993 (from Heisei series) Super MechaGodzilla was designed by a joint American- Japanese project under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Godzilla CounterMeasures Center (UNGCC) to defend the world from Godzilla.


Admittedly, the role of eggs as food means that we don't too often play with it, but rolling as an affordance of eggs is strong enough to make it into an Easter tradition: Egg Rolls. An egg's oblong shape allows for other variations on rolling, including rocking, tipping, and spinning.

The PADN provides a supporting quote from the resident teenage contingent:

"[the Egg] begs to be rolled down the street" and "rocked from its base."

Even a administrative associate at Stanford Medical Center couldn't help mixing compliments and a test of its defenses:

[The administrative associate] caught sight of the egg after getting off work from Stanford Medical Center. "It's unique. It's very well put together," he said, while trying to rock the egg.


Norman, in discussing graffiti on British Rail platforms, notes that "Flat, porous, smooth surfaces are for writing on." While the archetypal egg is porous and smooth, it doesn't provide that much flat writing surface. However, a Seven-Foot Tall Egg is a whole new species of egg, and the artist has conveniently coated all the circuit boards with a nice, smooth sealant. The Egg also provides it own cues as to this affordance: the artist has already put various handwritten multilingual phrases across its surface.

Multiple PADN quotees noted this affordance:

Tom, from Los Altos said he'd be surprised if it survives in the plaza for a long time: "It practically says, 'Spray paint me," he said.

An employee of Pizza My Heart, Emilio, thought that it didn't fit in with the environment. "It's gonna become art with all the kids' graffiti," he said.


This isn't an affordance of the egg itself -- it's more a lack of affordance by the choice of how it was installed. Many public sculptures are mounted on pseudo-pedestals, a slightly raised bit of concrete that sets it apart from the public walking area around it. These pedestals remove the affordance of walking in the area around the artwork, creating a virtual wall of the look-don't-touch museum experience.

The Art Egg is installed with no demarcations between it and the rest of the plaza, daring you to walk directly past it or approach it. It's there to be bumped into, shoved, rocked, or otherwise used within its affordances. Visit the Egg for a brief amount of time and you'll notice multiple people touching, bumping, shoving, and even kicking it as they walk past.


It's slightly above average human height, it's round, and you can walk right up to it. After all it's been through and all the entertainment it provided me (via the PADN), I gave it a hug.

April 19, 2005

Blasted midnight

I was shopping for Episode III tickets online and came across this difficult-to-interpret listing:


12:30am is listed last, which would seem to indicate that it means the morning of the 20th, but if I click on 12:30am it tells me that I would be purchasing tickets for "12:30am the evening of Thu, May 19."

parakkum has clarified that they actually mean "12:30am the morning of the Fri, May 20," as it appears that the real midnight showing tickets are listed when you choose Wed, May 18.

March 21, 2005

Package tracking + Progress bars

From John Maeda's blog I learned that progress bars make you perceive time at a faster rate. This bit of trivia came up in a discussion with parakkum about an order we're having shipped from the East Coast via ground rate.

Packaging tracking is a form of progress bar for your packages, but, as currently designed, it's somewhat broken. Instead of smoothly incrementing from start to finish, a package tracking progress bar quickly jumps to 20%, pauses there for four days, and then moves through the remaining 80% in the final 24 hours. Rather than creating a sense of movement for your package, the scene imagined is a box encased in ice, sitting ignored in the back corner of a warehouse, where a postal worker on a smoke break suddenly discovers it four days later and re-expedites it on its way.

For the OCD crowd, those of us whose compulsion is to build emotional attachment to our online orders by following their travels from postal hub to postal hub, I believe it would benefit us for package tracking to be reimplemented to create a smooth sense of movement over time.

There is a mapping problem between the actual design of the system (the package is in fact sitting in a single warehouse for four days) and the desired "smooth movement" perception, but that can be solved by rethinking the notion of "location" to be much more granular (i.e. specifying a specific location in a warehouse). Tell me that my package has moved from "Jacksonville, FL Shipping Dock" to "Jacksonville, FL, Northwest Sorting Facility" to "Jacksonville, FL, Upper package belt." Regale me with tales of how my brave package has criss-crossed across conveyor belts -- up, down, left, right. You can even go as far as to equip your scanners with low-quality cameras and post photos of my package alive and well, happily exploring your new high tech sorting facility -- I've seen video clips of a package sorting facility, and there is quite a bit of movement, quite a bit of drama, to be elicited. If Monsters Inc can create an action scene using the movement of doors through a sorting facility, why not utilize the same sense of movement for my packages?

If that is technologically unfeasible, or if the package is still sitting still, lie to me if you must. Up until the moment the package has arrived, or is late for the scheduled delivery, it really doesn't matter what tale you tell me as long as it's interesting, and non-static.

May 18, 2004

Purple audio

I enjoyed this Jon Udell post that discusses adding the feasability of linking to any portion of a larger audio file, which can be viewed as equivalent to Purple Numbers for audio.

May 17, 2004

Tangible gum interfaces

gumMy 1010 bookmarklet is down, so I'll post this here.

In London they've come up with a new "tangible" interface, psychologically similar to the fly in the urinal interface. In order to encourage people to not put their gum under tables, on the ground, etc... posters featuring a grid of "celebrities" are being deployed with the message: "Who deserves your gum?" An astonishing $265M is spent every year in the UK cleaning up gum, which this solution hopes to cut into. Perhaps this could be used to replace Gallup polls.

BBC NEWS | England | London | Celebrities used as gum targets

August 5, 2003


I really like this elephant graphic that Beth Mazur posted on her blog (from louis rosenfeld's bloug).
elephant graphic
- IDblog: Yet another UX/ED organization?

July 29, 2003

Section 508

This is the government's Web site on accessibility standards. Try viewing it in a non-IE browser and it gets even sadder. I guess they think that by merely putting in a widget that allows you to adjust the font size on the Web site it becomes more accessible. However, if you notice, the widget:
(a) doesn't change the font size of the menu links
(b) is in 12px text rendered over a mixed background

Apparently you also need the Flash plugin to view portions of the site, though I haven't found those pages yet.

June 17, 2003

Interaction Design Links

I made my way back over to IDblog and stumbled upon some interesting presentations (Thanks Beth Mazur!).

George Olsen of interaction by design has a nice presentation on IA and User Experience, which spouts some good common-sense-by-example principles.

Another presentation I just read was Is a picture worth a thousand words? by Jean-luc Doumont. A lot of it I skimmed over, but one interesting point I liked was that "nonverbal processing is fast and independent from verbal processing," which is important to remember when designing slideware. Another interesting side point is that abstract drawings are often better communicators than photos.

After reading all of these presentations, you might find this Powerpoint presentation of Tufte's Powerpoint critique.

June 6, 2003

Information Architect's Wiki

Nice Wiki effort that I found a link off of IDBlog: IAwiki.

what is this?

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to kwc blog in the HCI category.

GIS is the previous category.

Infovis is the next category.

Current entries can be found on the main page.