The BridgeI went to a very interesting and thought provoking session this morning by Joe Winchester from IBM UK. His English accent, Hugh Grant-ish stuttering and fast speech meant that quite a few of the audience missed some of the jokes. Pity, there were a few good jibes about global warming.

The main point of the presentation was to talk through some of the history of user interfaces, and to highlight the main point that most UIs come from a print paradigm. He started right back at the Xerox PARC and the research that the Apple guys stole borrowed to create the Apple II. Since it was Xerox, their main aim was to create a UI that could preview printing pages. Apple extended the paradigm bringing in concepts like cut/copy/paste/waste bin/files. Great idea since it leveraged a known paradigm, but he claims it has subconsciously effected the way we build UIs since. Even web applications have largely dragged the same components and paradigms through from the rich GUI world.

To give an example, he hates the overuse of scroll bars. His opinion is that they might have been useful when you were previewing a document and your screen couldn’t render everything it needed, but why do we force web users to scroll pages to get to the Save button at the bottom?

Another good point he made was about browsers and the old back button going back to a page that has been posted. He argues that both the browser builders and the application builders are just plain lazy. He thinks that users expect this ‘just to work’. I agree. (Sidenote: the GWT guys later in the day talked about how they didn’t want to have to ‘teach their parents again’ and hence they kept all the familiar paradigms. Seems like Google wants to do a lot, except spend time with their parents.)

Most interestingly of all, he talked about the maturity of the software business, particularly as it relates to UIs. He quoted the book The Humane Interface by Jef Raskin (already ordered a copy from Amazon) where he likens software development to movie making 100 years ago. At that time, movies were made by the camera man because they were the only ones that understood the technology. These days there is a clear separation between the technical and the artistic in cinema. Not so much in software.

As such he was very excited about the announcement of ScriptFX as a means of allowing that separation.
He also showed some stuff that he did like, such as this site that explores the possibility of a ‘clickless’ website:

It also made me think further on the possibility of an apparently stateless web application using AJAX. Think Mac when you update fields and hardly ever have a save button. Hmm…..

Unlike most of the other sessions so far, this one has really got me thinking.

Written by Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is one of the Directors of Shine Solutions Group, a Technology Consultancy in Melbourne, Australia.


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