Fancy interfaces still aren’t enough

With all the fancy new touch-interfaces being introduced these days, I’ve noticed that many still require users to understand the system the interface is running in. In other words, while touch interfaces are billed as more “human” and “organic,” the user must still learn how to use them. To me, that’s not organic enough. Existing Personal Computer interfaces are why I felt I had to write The Ultimate PC Primer. A new “touch” interface that requires explanation and training, especially those that are simply touch interfaces to traditional software menus, don’t provide much improvement. An intuitive and organic interface is one that allows the human to be human, not to have to understand how to interact like a machine.

Think about an MP3 player. It doesn’t matter how neat the menu system is. That’s not the point of the device. I don’t want an MP3 player with nifty menus; I just want to listen to music. The menus are currently just the interface method the device designers have chosen to employ. Personally, I think the best interface is one that’s not noticeable. For audio, my favorite example is the scene in Star Trek: Insurrection when Captain Jean-Luc Picard walks into his chamber and says, “Computer, music!” As his room’s computer chooses and begins to play a song, he reacts, “No, no. A Samba!” And the song changes. Now that’s intuitive. The interface gets out of the way to make room for the desired experience. Why clunk through menus, no matter how fancy, no matter how “touchy,” when the menu isn’t the desired end experience?

I wonder if interface designers are sometimes too enamored with their current tools and techniques and forget the end goal. Don Norman recently posted a wonderful satirical take on human and machine interaction called People Are From Earth, Machines Are From Outer Space. It’s a cute read, but even if you don’t take the time to read it, at least ask yourself the next time you see a new interface, “Is this much better, or just different? Does it free me or further enslave me?” And, as always, ask the question I do, “Is this easy to use for a new technology user, or just easier for me because I have a background with digital devices and software?”

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