Sketching helps you better understand the problem you are trying to solve and lets you visualize possible solutions. It is a fast and inexpensive way to brainstorm and to test out a lot of UI ideas before committing to one. Sketching speeds us the concept creation and iteration phase and makes it possible to get feedback early on, when changes are easy to make. Lennart Hennigs, Smashing Magazine

Typography and ease of use


…It’s helpful to understand one of the basic mechanicals of reading: saccades. Instead of moving smoothly across the page when we read, our eyes actually make discrete jumps between words, fixating on one word for a short period of time before making a ballistic movement to another one. We call these movements saccades.”

“But despite their “ballistic” nature, these rapid eye movements actually improve our reading capabilities. While we process the words immediately within our focus, we use the additional information just outside of it to further guide our reading. As readers, our time to comprehension is aided by the context of adjacent words-to the extent that we are often able to automatically process (and thus skip over) shorter functional words like and, the, of, and but.

From: Setting Type for User Interfaces

With Ambient the physical environment becomes an interface to digital information rendered as subtle changes in form, movement, sound, color or light. Current information interfaces are either interruptive or too detailed. For the first time in history, ubiquitous wireless networks can affordably deliver digital information anytime, anywhere. The result for most of us is cacophony. Ambient wants to make the world calmer.
Ambient Devices

Designing a Practical UI for a Gesture-Based Interface

arc menu

We realized that the best way to deal with fatigue was to enable users to rest their elbow on a table or the arm of their chair. Our tests showed that for the first two buttons on the right side, the users had great results. Fatigue was minimal even after several minutes of interaction. To reach the two buttons on the left, however, the users had to raise their elbow, which brought back the problem of fatigue. This proved to be true even when we put all four buttons in a stack formation or a square formation. We kept coming up against the issue that only some of the points were convenient to select without having to bend the wrist or elbow in an uncomfortable way.

Read the case study.

Camera UI Tour

Here’s a sampling of user interfaces across compact cameras from every major digital camera maker: Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Casio, Olympus and Fujifilm. User interfaces matter in these cameras more than ever because they’re increasingly the major way you drill down to change settings or switch modes—rather than manually cranking a dial, like on a pro DSLR. Some are pretty good (Canon, Samsung) while some are pretty bad (Casio).

A Visual Tour of Camera Interfaces

Complex systems

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system. — John Gall

Characteristics of tangible interfaces

Two proposals seem most promising for an understanding of the characteristics of tangible interfaces. Both are relevant. Ullmer and Ishii stress seamless integration of representation and control.

There are 4 characteristics concerning representation and control:

  1. Physical representations are computationally coupled to underlying digital information.
  2. Physical representations embody mechanisms for interactive control.
  3. Physical representations are perceptually coupled to actively mediated digital representations. (visual augmentation via projection, sound…)
  4. Physical state of tangibles embodies key aspects of the digital state of a system. (TUIs are persistent: turn off the electrical power and there is still something meaningfull there what can be interpreted)


  • Tangible interfaces rely on a balance between physical and digital representations.
  • Digital representations are needed to mediate dynamic information.
  • The elements of TUIs are spatially re-configurable (in contrast to tangible digital appliances) (Ishii, H., and Ullmer, B, 1997).

Whereas Ullmer’s characterisation focuses on issues of representation and its computational coupling, Brauer’s perspective is one of human-computer interaction, comparing GUI interaction with graspable interfaces. Brauer defines as special qualities of graspable interfaces the following two key characteristics:

  • a) Physical spatiality describes the co-presence of user, objects and other users in one interaction space. This space is a hybrid. Physical objects have a double affiliation to real/physical and virtual/digital space, but must still obey laws of the physical world. Real and virtual parts are each enhanced by the other. Because of co-presence of users and objects, interaction takes place IN the user interface. Therefore input and output space coincide. The user experiences a bodily shared space, his/her body is in the same space as the interaction objects. Following [17, 22, 35, 41] physical spatiality, by preserving physical laws and sharing of space, results in well-understood visibility of objects and of gestures. Strictly speaking this characteristic is a prerequisite for the next characteristic.
  • b) Haptic directness denotes direct manipulation where the physical, graspable objects themselves are the interface. The user has direct contact with the interface elements and has an embodied experience of manipulation, using his/her hands and body movements. Interaction is unmediated and intuitive, leading to ‘direct engagement’. Because hands interact directly with interface elements, two-handed or parallel interaction is possible. Unmediated, direct manipulation results in isomorphic and structure-preserving operations.

A motivation for the Tangible Media Group is that our ancestors developed in the past a range of specialized physical arifacts with different functionality, for instance to measure the passage of time, to predict the movement of planets or to compute. By grasping and manipulating these instruments, they developed rich languages to interact with real physical objects.

Newly arrived and quite ignorant of the languages of the Levant, Marco Polo could express himself only by drawing objects from his baggage-drums, salt fish, necklaces of wart hogs’ teeth-and pointing to them with gestures, leaps, cries of wonder or of horror, imitating the bay of a jackal, the hoot of the owl… Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

But many of these artifacts disappeared and were replaced by the most common of devices: the Personal Computer. In consequence, human computer Interaction is currently limited to the use of a screen (desk-mounted, head-mounted, hand-held, etc.), a mouse and a keyboard. The Tangible Media Group wants to reject this traditional way of HCI and wants to use real physical objects for representation and control of digital information instead.
Most research on tangible interfaces has been focused on implementation. This concentrates on defining concepts, building category systems (B. Ullmer and H. Ishii, 2000), evaluating usability (M. Fjeld,et al, 1999) or potential interaction metaphors. The focus is on single user interaction, with questions of cooperative use largely left out of consideration. As requirements for cooperative use are not identical with usability requirements for single user settings a deeper understanding seems essential in order to deliberately design for cooperative use.

I did some elementary investigation into cooperative use as part of the tangible work I was doing about 3 years ago.
Ishii, H., and Ullmer, B. “Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits, and Atoms”, Proc. of CHI’97, pp. 234-241, ACM 1997.
Emerging Frameworks for Tangible User Interfaces Brygg Ullmer and Hiroshi Ishii.

[Bits] 15 Interface design resources

10 Futuristic User Interfaces
Good user interfaces are crucial for good user experience. It doesn’t matter how good a technology is — if we, designers, don’t manage to make user interface as intuitive and attractive as possible, the technology will hardly reach a breakthrough. To gain the interest in a new product or technology, users need to understand its advantages or find themselves impressed or involved.
10 Best Application UIs of 2008
Many winners employ dashboards to give users a single overview of complex information and use lightboxes to ensure that users notice dialogs. Also, the Office 2007 ribbon showed surprisingly strong early adoption.
History’s 5 Best Interface Designs
Modern interface designers hate you. With few exceptions, the modern gadget is as impossible to navigate as were the seas before the sextant and the marine chronometer. The reason? The internal functions bear no relationship to anything we might encounter in the real world, so arbitrary abstractions are needed to bridge the gap between microchip and brain. Add to this the fact that the UI is often an afterthought in most devices and you end up with something like the RAZR, hated far and wide for its labyrinthine control layout.
An introduction to using patterns in web design
The biggest challenge for web designers is the unthinkably huge number of possible ways to solve any given problem. We usually don’t think of this because we have our habits and traditions to fall back on, but there are literally billions of possible pixel combinations for each page we make. There is a better way to manage this vast complexity than by making big decisions up front and hoping for the best. To make better sites–sites that are functional, beautiful, and “usable”–we have to break our design problems up into small independent chunks based on the real issues within our requirements. Christopher Alexander, who came up with this stuff, calls these chunks patterns.
IA Summit: Design patterns in the real world
“James Reffell and Micah Alpern presented eBay’s evolving body of solutions to Design Patterns in the Real World at IA Summit 2006. As their business and design teams grew exponentially over the past few years, eBay began to have problems maintaining design consistency within their products. Once the number of designers at eBay grew past “a number that could effectively coordinate amongst themselves” the complexity of the eBay platform and the rate at which products needed to be delivered contributed to lots of unintentionally inconsistent design work. People were reinventing the wheel and lots of information was being lost. To address these issues, eBay’s design team tried several approaches.”
User Interface Design Patterns
It has long been common practice to use recurring solutions to solve common problems. Such solutions are also called design patterns. Collections of software design patterns are standard reference points for the experienced user interface designer. This website seeks to better the situation for the UI designer, who struggles with the same problems as many other UI designers have struggled with before him.
Pattern Tap is here to satisfy and encourage the inspiration needs of my interface design peers and peeps. We aspire to be the one stop pattern shop for your next inspiration need.
Factory Joe’s Design Patterns. This collection captures findings of consistent, unique or interesting interfaces and design flows from across the web.
AJAX & Interface Design
In order to communicate content updates to users, many AJAX applications have adopted attention-getting techniques to highlight interface changes. Color change and animation are two of the most common approaches.
And The Yahoo Design Pattern Library,, Guspim’s Design Solutions Collection, Ten Usability Heuristics, First Principles of Interaction Design, Introduction to Apple Human Interface Guidelines.

Graspable User Interfaces

George Fitzmaurice on Graspable User Interfaces in his thesis of the same name:

“A Graspable UI design provides users concurrent access to multiple, specialized input devices which can serve as dedicated physical interface widgets, affording physical manipulation and spatial arrangements. Hence input control can be “space-multiplexed.”
That is, different devices can be attached to different functions, each independently (but possibly simultaneously) accessible. This, then affords the capability to take advantage of the shape, size and position of the physical controller to increase functionality and decrease complexity. It also means that the potential persistence of attachment of a device to a function can be increased. By using physical objects, we not only allow users to employ a larger expressive range of gestures and grasping behaviors but also to leverage off of a user’s innate spatial reasoning skills and everyday knowledge of object manipulations. These physical artifacts are essentially “graspable functions” — input devices which can be tightly coupled or “attached” to virtual objects for manipulation, or for expressing actions. These artifacts need to have spatially-aware computational devices.”

User illusion

My main complaint (about modern interfaces) is that metaphor is a poor metaphor for what needs to be done. At PARC we coined the phrase ‘user illusion’ to describe what we were about when designing user interfaces. There are clear connotations to the stage, theatrics, and magic, all of which give much stronger hints as to the direction to be followed… should we transfer the paper metaphor so perfectly that the screen is as hard as paper to erase and change, clearly not. – Alan Kay

Designing mobile user interfaces

User interface design is an important aspect of application development for any environment, but UI design for mobile applications can be especially tricky. The environmental constraints of mobile devices (such as limited memory and processing power) don’t just affect the functional aspects of mobile applications, but also the user interface. In a mobile device environment, more than any other platform, each layer of the application architecture must be carefully considered and prioritized to maximize the device’s physical capacity.
In this column you’ll see how the architectural perspective developed in previous columns can be applied to designing a highly usable mobile application user interface. I’ll start with the outer layer of the architectural view, with a careful evaluation of the physical limits and capacities inherent to mobile environments. Next, I’ll focus on the particular requirements of the user interface. And finally, you’ll see how these two layers of analysis, combined, impact the implementation of the application UI.

Architectural manifesto: Designing mobile user interfaces

Luke Wroblewski on Refining Data Tables

Luke Wroblewski writing for UX Matters:

After forms, data tables are likely the next most ubiquitous interface element designers create when constructing Web applications. Users often need to add, edit, delete, search for, and browse through lists of people, places, or things within Web applications. As a result, the design of tables plays a crucial role in such an application’s overall usefulness and usability. But just like the design of forms,there’s more than one way to design tabular data.

Refining Data Tables on UX Matters

Interface and Society Conference

Deadline call for works: 1st of July 2006 – see call
Public Private Interface workshop: 10th to 13th of June.
Mobile troops workshop: 13th to 16th of September
Conference: 10th and 11th of November 2006
Exhibition opening and performance: 10th of November.
In our everyday life we constantly have to cope more or less successfully
with interfaces. We use the mobile phone, the mp3 player, and our laptop,
in order to gain access to the digital part of our life. In recent years
this situation has lead to the creation of new interdisciplinary subjects
like “Interaction Design” or “Physical Computing”.
We live between two worlds, our physical environment and the digital
space. Technology and its digital space are our second nature and the
interfaces are our points of access to this technosphere.
Since artists started working with technology they have been developing
interfaces and modes of interaction. The interface itself became an
artistic thematic.
The project INTERFACE and SOCIETY investigates how artists deal with
the transformation of our everyday life through technical interfaces.
With the rapid technological development a thoroughly critique of the
interface towards society is necessary.
The role of the artist is thereby crucial. S/he has the freedom to
deal with technologies and interfaces beyond functionality and usability.
The project INTERFACE and SOCIETY is looking at this development
with a special focus on the artistic contribution.
INTERFACE and SOCIETY is an umbrella for a range of activities
throughout 2006 at Ateleir Nord in Oslo.

Usability: it ain’t easy

“With more advanced services rolling out across the planet, ease-of-use is becoming crucial to their success, but today’s user interfaces aren’t quite cutting it. Solving that will be a complex task, but the place to start is the users – not just by asking them what they want in future, but what they’re doing with their handsets now
As the mobile industry moves toward more advanced non-voice services, from MMS and instant messaging to mobile TV and video calls, the underlying mantra for manufacturers, operators and apps developers alike has been a strikingly contradictory one: offer simple, easy-to-use services using mind-bogglingly complex technology. That means shielding the user from all that state-of-the-art wizardry behind the scenes, and making any new service appear as though it’s so simple even your Luddite great-uncle could figure it out – ideally without once having to consult a manual.”
Read: Usability: it ain’t easy – Telecom Asia. Via Putting People First

KDE as an Example of Bad Interface Design

The work areas have been taken over by unnecessary short cuts to commands that are seldom used. “Toolbars are useful for giving users immediate access to the most frequently used commands.” [Apple’s user interface guildlines window appearance section]. So if you are making a media player just because you have the actions cut, copy and paste does not mean they should be in the toolbar, but Play, Pause and Next should be. Application do not need to present this much to the users on the default view and in many cases it is redundant.
Thanks to Ben Meyer.

Grobag® Egg™ Room Thermometer

“The colour of the ‘egg’ changes to let you if the room temperature is too low, too high or just right, helping you maintain a safe sleeping environment for your baby. No need to put the light on to read a traditional thermometer!”
An interesting and rather useful ambient interface implementation. What are ambient interfaces? Tom Gross at Fraunhofer gives a good definition based on the work of Gross, Weiser and Brown:
“Ambient interfaces use the whole environment of the user for the interaction between the user and the system. They present digital information through subtle changes in the user’s physical environment such as variations of light, sounds, or movements. They capture natural interactions of the user with physical devices such as switches, buttons, or wheels and translate them into digital commands (Gross, 2002; Wisneski et al., 1998). Ambient interfaces go beyond the classical graphical user interface and do not consume real estate on the computer screen; they make user interaction with the system easier and more intuitive. Their properties of a calm technology (Weiser & Brown, 1996) are particular useful for situations, in which users want and need permanent background information without being disrupted in their foreground tasks.”
Despite just being a working proof of concept, the ambient interface we created called “Girls Ambient Room” has proven to be pretty popular despite little or know marketing on our part. I wonder how we will deal with all these new bits of information entering our environment. Instead of dealing with understanding the complexity of a screen based GUI will be now have to start learning how to read our environment? Hopefully we won’t have to learn to deal with more information but better information. Thinkingliving – egg thermometer.
Via Popgadget.

Stove Interface Improvement

I don’t think I have bought an appliance in Taiwan that has lasted for any real length of time. The only appliance that has last is the cheap Proton 21″ TV we bought in Taipei 8 years ago for a measly 7000NT$. We are on our third toaster oven and so far I am not too thrilled with it. Is there any device lower on your list of items that you have to buy? Other than a basic problem of not being hot enough this stove could use a little improvement in it’s interface. The middle dial that you see highlighted in the photograph above is prone to all kinds of errors. Though the nipple on the dial is a nice tactile addition to the interface, when you have a dial that turns 360º it is helpful to have a high contrast visual indication of it’s state. Something that that similar colored nipple didn’t do. A simple rough dab of red paint will suffice, thereby improving the interface and reducing the frustration of thinking you had all the burners on, when in reality you didn’t.
I have noticed lately that allot of appliances manufactured abroad have stamps on them that state “Taiwan Only”. Does this indicate that they send all their crap here while leaving the products up to standard for the Japanese and American markets?

Cars And The Rain, Breaking A Mental Model

I managed to not get lost on the way to class last night and arrived relatively unscathed. It was raining with the usual accompaniment of horrible traffic. I always wonder why when it rains here there is a seemingly great increase in the number of cars on the road. This might seem like a stupid question to ponder (and well it is) but since no one walks here, no one takes public transit, and there are the same amount of scooters on the road why the increase? This should be the study of someone’s Masters thesis at Tsing Hua I think.
When I am explaining a concept I like to use my own ineptitude to help explain a point.
I like to use the light switches in my house as a good example. I have lived in this same old house in Hsinchu for the past 3 years. In all that time I don’t think I have gone a day without pressing the wrong button to turn on the lights in a particular room. It’s a point of constant annoyance for me and jokes from others. Many of the light switches in my house are of the 2 switch variety – not unlike what I have grown up with in Canada. There is one key difference. In Canada the location of the button, top or bottom, consistently corresponded to a specific location. Up means on and the top most button means the light in front. In my Taiwan house the correlation is the opposite – hence I make many mistakes using the “interface”. It’s a simplistic example that seems to help introduce the idea of breaking a persons mental model of an interaction at your own peril.

A Form Usability Checklist (ALA)

I’m a bit behind in hitting my usual reading material haunts but from my favourite web development magazine comes this fine article:

“Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, not more difficult. As usability-conscious designers, we can make our users’ lives easier by thinking about the way people interact with our websites, providing clear direction, and then putting the burden of sorting out the details in the hands of the computers—not the users.
It’s that last part that we’re going to focus on here. We’ve all heard and read about big usability mistakes time and time again: “Don’t use images or flash for navigation,” “Don’t use Javascript for links,” and I certainly hope we’re all applying those lessons in our work. It’s often the smallest usability quirks, however, that create the biggest annoyances for users, especially when it comes to HTML forms. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be off to a good start.”

Read: Sensible Forms: A Form Usability Checklist

Audio User Experience – Q&A

Kathy Sierra was nice enough to send me an email asking me some thoughts on audio/sound. I sometimes need this impetus to write down even the briefest thoughts on a subject (and these are just brief sketches). The following are her questions and my answers.

Do you agree with me that the power of audio/sound is being greatly overlooked in so many areas of product design, user experience, etc. (as opposed to areas where sound is recognized as crucial, like movies and commercials)?

Yes I agree but there is a good reason – I would also extend your characterization of crucial to include games and toys.
Movies and commercials are passive shared experiences. Task based products are interactive and not generally shared. It’s an obvious but crucial difference. Everyone outside of China may agree that noise is something that we would rather not experience. But sound is not noise.
Sound is distinguished from noise by the simple fact that sound can provide information.
Sound answers questions; sound supports activities for tasks, so sound is inheritly useful. Consider the information provided by the click when the bolt on a door slides open, the sound of your zipper when you close a pair of pants, the whistle of a kettle when your water is finished boiling, the sound of a river moving in the distance, the sound of liquid boiling, of food frying, and the sounds of people talking in the distance. In the workplace there are the sounds of keys being pressed on a computer keyboard.
Natural sound is as essential as visual information because sound tells us about things we can’t see and it does so while our eyes are occupied elsewhere. Natural sounds reflect the complex interaction of natural objects; the way one part moves against another, the material of which the parts are made. Sounds are generated when materials interact and the sound tells us whether they are hitting, sliding, breaking or bouncing. Sounds differ according to the characteristics of the objects and they differ on how fast things are going and how far they are from us.
An extension of the statement that tasks are not shared is that the environment in which the tasks are competed are – one person’s sound is another noise. Visual displays are not as intrusive as auditory ones.
So the question of whether or not auditory interfaces would or should be used is primarily a question of implementation – how to restrict the receiving of the information inherent to sound to the person meant to be receiving it? When we solve this problem cheaply then I think we will see a great deal more use of sound in other products’ development.

Do you see any areas of great leverage — places where audio/sound could be incorporated that could make a big difference in either usability, user experience (even if simply for more *pleasure* in the experience)?

I hesitate to use these buzz words but with the popularization of Ajax/Web 2.0 interfaces it may be a good time for people to start experimenting further with sound in online application interfaces. Since these interfaces load data in real time, we lose a vital visual clue from the pages loading or refreshing. Sometimes the data change happens so fast we can’t follow any clues.
But these ideas are always met with criticism. An example from Jeffery Veen, “Sounds I stopped counting how many times I tore the headphones from my ears when a site started blaring music or “interaction” cues like pops, whistles, or explosions whenever I moused over something. Am I the only one who listens to music while using my computer?”
I love childrens toys and gain much inspiration from them. Cheap cheap sensors which illicite wonderfully fun feedback. We should have these in everything. Imagine buying a jacket that when you closed the snaps it sounded “heavier” than it feels or looks. Like the difference in sound between the door closing on a Lada and a Benz. Lots of possibilities.

Any other comments on your “Adult Chair” experience? What you learned from observing users interacting, etc.?

The adult chairs were just a small part of a broader set of objectives in creating non-elitist interfaces to musical expression. Though all of my work at that time were prototypes, just some manifestations of some ideas I had, I was harshly criticized because of the lack of “new science” or extended interactivity. Basically my work was too simple due to using off the shelf tech. and short lengths of time that people were engaged in the activities. I rejected this criticism, mostly, because I knew the criticizers didn’t understand the goals of the project and they weren’t looking at people actually using the prototypes. Though it was never intended to be so, this project ended up being the greatest champion of user centered design for me personally. We video taped allot of sessions and gathered allot of anecdotal data which drove later iterations of the design.
Some of the conclusions:

  • Its really hard to design interfaces that have no visual responses. In a game we developed around an interface similar to Adult Chairs (hulabaloo) children kept looking for flashing lights or some kind of physical response. Eventually they learned to use their ears only which was good as it was a music appreciation game. Children here are very conditioned to visual response.
  • People love being surprised and they want to have fun. They don’t care if the technology came from radio shack – they care if you can make them smile.
  • Features, options, and controls are not needed to allow people to have fun for a short period of time. To keep them engaged for long periods of time people want that control.
Any other thoughts or tips for the rest of us?

I think too often when people thing of audio interfaces they immediately think of the horrible implementations in Yahoo IM, icq, and flash sites with hip hop sound tracks. It can be intelligently and elegantly designed.
Another thought is the difficulty in designing “gray sound”. Computer user interfaces are gray – not thought provoking – sit in the background and purposely boring. Icons and language localizations aside I think they work everywhere. But how to design auditory signals that work everywhere – cultural differences abound and what data is there to help us?
I live and work in Taiwan, arguably the noisiest group of people anywhere (i’m guessing). They “appear” to have a tolerance for noise and a need for sound that is far different than my own. Because their environment is so full of aural cues how do we design for them? A Japanese garden is a place of tranquility. A Canadian park a place of clean nature. A Taiwanese park is frequently experienced with a soundtrack as they pump in music and nature sounds to keep it from becoming quiet. Quiet seems to make them uncomfortable. This is just one example of what is acceptable or normal for levels of aural cues across 3 different locations and cultures. I think localizing audio interfaces will be quite challenging.

Adult chairs exhibited in Taipei

Never underestimate the power of fun.
Today one of my tangible interface experiments is being exhibited in Taipei as part of some industry showcase – apparently the President of Taiwan is going to have a look though after yesterday’s election I doubt he will have much enthusiasm for the fun my piece seems to provide. The continued quasi-popularity of Adult Chairs always suprises me as it was without a doubt the simplist interface I had made. I think it proves how important simplicity, discovery (surprise), and fun can be in creating these type of products (interfaces). At least in the context of everything else that was being produced by the company.
Adult chairs were shown in a greater exhibition I had back in January and were a part of a project I was running called smenms. They were very simple prototypes which consisted of 7 pressure sensors (couldn’t afford 8) hidden in 4 pillows which when activated controlled a simple parameter of music. I wanted to embed sensors in ordinary objects which would allow people to interact with music and sound with a form that had a completely different use. It was hoped that by making the interface invisible and a part of ordinary objects we could invoke a sense of wonder, surprise, and hopefully engage people in the creation of sound and music in a whole new way. The whole project followed an iterative project development cycle, with every cycle producing an increasingly expressive musical interface. This was a slightly different version of the first iteration which utilized a simple on/off interaction metaphor. In first experimenting with different sounds, music, and parameters in which to control (I originally wanted people to control wildly different parameters but no one found it fun – it sounded too “post modern”) I finally settled on controlling the volume of separate pre-composed tracks. I was disappointed in the amount of expression but the audience was enthused – perhaps the lively music I wrote and produced carried the day.
Yesterday Chientai and I were setting it up for likely the last time. I will miss projects like this.
Here is an example output of the song the chairs controlled called Sit and Dance.
More info. here and a related article which perhaps should have been the title of this one Never Underestimate the Power of Fun.

Toy Interface

Here is a good model for a successful interface, please excuse the poor quality photograph. I took my daughter out yesterday to try on some hats and naturally no trip to the childrens clothing section is complete with out her going and playing with the toys on the same floor. Catriona found this simple looking “bike” and within 30 seconds was zooming around kniping at the heels of the other store patrons. I was struck by the ease in which she was able to use this toy and despite my belief that she is near genius I have to believe that the construction of the toy itself had quite allot to do with her ease in using the bike’s “interface”.
The bike moves around without pedals by a simple rocking of the handle bars. This action creates momentum, allowing you to acquire speed, after which you are able to glide. For an old man like myself it’s pretty ingenious.
This device succeeds in ways that can be applied to other more “traditional” interfaces.

  • All the complexity is hidden (there is a gear and extra wheel underneath).
  • The interface that controls the motion is attached to an object that allows for natural interaction. Catriona expects to move the wheel, it’s her mental model of this device, so she naturally wants to play with the steering wheel. This allows her to discover how the interface works and because she has done it many times before the time to learn this device is greatly reduced.

Pretty cool. An additional feature that I didn’t try out was the “bikes” ability to scale. The sales lady said that it accommodate even people of my weight and size. She motioned with a smile for me to hop on. I declined the opportunity.

Easy fix to a Poor Application Process UI

I have been working on a site lately that is trying to gain some revenue through referrals; it’s a pretty common tactic I have come to learn and I am anxious to see the results (if any). Naturally applying for an account with any of these companies requires the filling out of an online application form. One of these companies Commission Junction has a pretty simple but lengthy process which seems fine at first but they make an annoying mistake for non-US publishers. It’s an easy fix too.
In this screen shot you see that they require a tax id. But there is no instructional text provided as to what exactly I should put there (I don’t have a tax id). I put “Not Applicable”.
I then got an email with a rather confusing set of text telling that they only accept “those applicants that provide a valid tax identification number in the “Tax ID” field of their application”. Then they tell me that if I am not subject to US taxes, please leave the “Tax ID” field blank, and resubmit the application. The tone of the email sounds like it was written by a lawyer, instead of a human being concerned about doing business.
Instead of telling me of my error via email and forcing me to reapply how about designing the application process and form in such a way as to help mitigate errors. Here is a possible example.
A rough example - not to scale