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Interface Design: Get Your Hands Off My Banana

Topics: Technology | Add A CommentBy admin | March 6, 2013

The future of device interfaces is probably hands off, but it looks like we’ll still be fingerpainting on windows for a while.

For about a decade until around 2008, I did a lot of work in web development, often focusing more on the UI/UX (user interface/user experience) end of things. Early on, I developed a concept that I often adhere to, which is “Give the Monkey a Banana”. The monkey, in this case, is of course the person we usually refer to more politely as the “user”. It was inspired by watching one of my first clients review a website I had just created for them. They did something I’ve seen dozens (if not hundreds) of times since. They kept clicking on things that gave no indication that they were links. What were they clicking on? They clicked on words they liked, or pictures they liked, with utter disregard for common visual cues like underlined text or mouseover effects. It hit me that first time, with that first client — the monkey wants a banana! To this day, that largely sums up my approach to interface design. What is the banana? How can we help the monkey get it? Which is a big part of why I’m excited about all the new things going on with interface design. This is a topic we’ve touched on a lot before; in fact one of our first posts back in 2008 was about digital interfaces for music, and more recently, I prattled on about the vague virtues of Windows 8 and my mild contempt for skeuomorphic design.

More recently, my personal frustration with computer interfaces has only accelerated with the purchase of a tablet. As much as I love the thing, it creates two problems. The first problem? If you use a tablet for a while, you’ll probably find yourself quickly and easily adopting gestures like swiping, pinching, and tapping. Pretty cool, very functional stuff. But soon, you’ll run into apps or websites that don’t respond to any of these gestures, or worse yet, the layout of a website (like the site you’re on right now!) will make it hard to even tap links because of type sizes and image layouts. So the first problem is the transition period to a new form of interaction. But the second problem is even more irksome in my opinion, and it is that in spite of the tech industry’s new focus on the second screen as a growth market, the last thing we need is another screen. While perusing How ‘Minority Report’ Trapped Us In A World Of Bad Interfaces on TheAwl.com the other day, I ran across a link to piece called A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design, by Bret Victor. It’s probably one of the best summaries I’ve seen in a while of the problems we still face with interface design, the most obvious of which is what Victor calls “Pictures Under Glass”. No matter how cool the animation of an action is on your iPad, it’s still just a picture. And you’re still just dragging your finger around on a piece of glass, a dull experience – given our complexity as organisms that can grasp, see, and feel – that Victor calls a “Novocaine drip to the wrist”.

Why, when we have things like fingertip-tracking gesture technology or 3-D interaction, or even using brain waves as a control input almost at our er, fingertips, would we zero in on the dull and often less-than-useful action of “fingerpainting” on glass? Again, Bret Victor sums it up nicely, compiling in a single image all the amazing real-world examples of how this gesture is used in every day life:

Below are examples of just a few of the alternatives mentioned above, but take the time to check out that rant on interaction design. It examines the issue in an entertaining and insightful way. Maybe some day soon, you’ll be able to get your hand off my banana, but for now, you’re going to have to keep poking and pinching it.

Here’s an example of an early version of Leap Motion’s gestural interface

Here’s Tan Le, Developer of the Emotiv brain wave controller headset giving a detailed demo at TED:

And here’s a clip about MIT’s “SpaceTop” project.

Hopefully once they get the interface designed, they’ll make millions and be able to hire a voiceover professional…

Who knew brainwave headsets could be so stylish?