Recently I have been reading a lot of books about interaction design, prototyping and negotiations and one book in particular Designing Interactions, by Bill Moggridge is a absorbing read, especially if you want to read about the pioneers of User Interfaces and devices as well as the various techniques they use. You name a pivotal person in the field of Computer interaction and the book covers them and their crowning achievements. There are also a lot of places where Smalltalk is mentioned. Oh how much we owe to that time and that language.
To give you a taste I’ll quote the section that interviews Bill Verplank who drove interaction design to new levels during his work at Xerox from 1978 to 1986 on the Xerox Star graphical user interface. I like this section in particular because it draws out what an interaction designer is all about. Even if you have a passing interest in interaction design, I think this book is worth getting.
From the book:
Bill says that the interaction designer has three questions to answer; they are all “How do you…?” questions.
1. “How do you do?”
How do you affect the world? A human, a person that we are designing for, does something, and we provide affordances. We either present handles that they can continuously control, or we give them buttons for discrete control, pressing the button and giving up control to the machine. When you are designing the way people act, there is a choice between handles and buttons. You can grab hold of a handle and manipulate it, keeping control as you do it. Alternatively you can push a button, or click one, delegating control to the machine.
2. “How do you feel?”
How do you get feedback? McLuhan made the distinction between what he called “fuzzy,” or “cool,” media and “distinct,” or “hot,” media. Early TV was a cool medium, with its fuzzy images. Cool media draw you in. A book with careful printing or a gravestone with carved lettering is hot, or immutable–you cannot touch or change it. We design the way that the machine, or system, gives feedback to the user, or the book looks to the user, or the sign communicates. That’s where a lot of feelings come from; a lot of our emotions about the world come from sensory qualities of those media that we present things with.
3. “How do you know?”
As we design products with computers in them, it is very difficult for a user to know exactly what they are going to do. A map gives the knowledge that you may need if you are designing complex systems. A path offers a kind of understanding that is more about skill and doing the right thing at the right moment. It is the responsibility if the designer to help people understand what is happening by showing them a map or a path. The map shows the user an overview of how everything works, and the path shows them what to do, what they need to know moment by moment.
This section continues to build upon this by talking about Interaction Design Paradigms and Process and ends with a good example of applying these.
This is just one of many inspiring sections that let you get into the mind of the people who created the tools and interfaces we use today.