Raskin on future interfaces

In Business Week Online, Jef Raskin, designer of the original Macintosh interface and author of The Humane Interface, talks about the future of interfaces. In the article, Can Jobs "Think Outside the Pretty Box"?, Raskin says that Apple needs to get beyond its form fetish and think of revolutionizing the UI and the user experience. He offers some insight in to what he sees as the next level of computing from the perspective of the user experience.

    There has been a lot of research in usability over the past couple of decades. Almost none of it has gone into the Apple. ... Bottom line, we really haven't made significant progress interface-wise from the original Mac. In some ways things have retrogressed. We can do a lot more with the machines, but we haven't made an interface to keep up with the Internet world. We have learned a lot in the worlds of interface and cognitive psychology, but that isn't being taken advantage of. It's as if in the car business they suddenly forgot that radial tires and power steering exist.

    The changes would come in the software. ... One of the good things about the kinds of interfaces I am working on is that they don't have a desktop. They don't have an operating system, at least not one that the user sees. You work directly on what you want to work on. If you start typing, it says: "Oh, this person is typing, I had better save what this person is typing."

    You shouldn't have to switch from application to application. If I'm in the middle of a document and I want to make a calculation, I have to open up this stupid calculator window. Then I have to cut and paste the results into the document. Why can't I just type 59 times 54.6 wherever I happen to be -- in PhotoShop, the word processor, or wherever -- and tell the machine to give me the answer, please, right now?

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More Interface Action

More interesting ideas from MIT and Microsoft in the LA Times.

Mark Hurst responds to new interface ideas. (from January 14)

A New Engine

In defense of Apple, they moved way ahead on the interface while using an older operating system. System 7, now OS 9.x, took them a long way, but now it's showing it's age, like still running a carborator when everywhen else has moved on to fuel injection (to extend Raskin's metaphor). They needed to fix that situation before doing anything radical in the interface (I don't consider OS X that radical) all the while cranking out exciting industrial design. You can only fight a war on so many fronts. Hopefully now they can turn their attention back to the user interface.


Raskin says:

-- quote --
You shouldn't have to switch from application to application. If I'm in the middle of a document and I want to make a calculation, I have to open up this stupid calculator window. Then I have to cut and paste the results into the document. Why can't I just type 59 times 54.6 wherever I happen to be -- in PhotoShop, the word processor, or wherever -- and tell the machine to give me the answer, please, right now?
-- quote --

Because, Mr. Raskin, I might be typing those words as part of an article on interfaces (like you did) and want the words to appear exactly like that, or I might be using a filter in Photoshop with nowhere to type text, or I might be listening to an MP3 file in Windows Media Player, or I might be surfing IASlash in a browser window with no place for that kind of textual input, and I can think of several other places where it might not be even possible, let alone feasible to have such a feature. I'll tell you where it will work though: Excel. Just type "=59*54.6" in to a cell. Oh wait, I wonder what would happen if the computer just replaced that last "59*54.6" bit of text with the result 3221.4. Hell, that would screw what I was trying to write. Ha!

Good points, Madhu

I have such problems with Micro$oft applications trying to be cute and not letting me just enter text without it converting everything to sentence case in Word, converting stuff like "/path/to/some/file" to some calculation in Excel. The point is, computers are just not smart enough to intuit what I might intend when I start typing somewhere within the OS.


evaluating calculations in MS Word

Not sure what Raskin uses for writing his documents, but Word used to contain a shortcut that would do exactly what he wanted ... evaluate the basic equation that was just typed. I just checked in Word 2001 but the shortcut key has been reassigned :-(

No matter - I've enhanced my mac with InstantCalc, which lets me do just that in just about any application, just like this: 52+73 = 125. I use it in photoshop, I use it in email, I use it in my web editor, I use it in web browsers.

Being able to do calculations is important ... to me. Others would want other functionality specific to their needs. If we gathered ALL the user requirements into one system we'd have a nightmare in usability and feature bloat. This concept of Raskin that the computer should ship with all the functionality users might possibly need is just plain unworkable.

Unless of course he's thinking that the computer should ship with all the functionality that Jeff Raskin might possibly need, which would be incredibly arrogant. I doubt he's making that particular mistake.

The *humane* interface

has anybody actually read Jef Raskin's book? His visions of an interface that goes beyond the desktop and into document metaphors are enlightening and strong. I find it funny that after only a few years of the desktop metaphor people find it so hard to think of other ways of interacting with a computer...

Alas, Joe User hates change.

Alas, Joe User hates change. People spend years trying to figure out their operating system and office suite. The last thing they want is to learn something totally new. If, hypothetically, Microsoft created an interface that increased usability by 200% but looked totally different and used a different metaphor, it would be a bad idea to release it and expect people to switch effortlessly. I'll stick my neck out and say that it would meet with lots of resistance from regular users (not people like you and I).

You've probably heard about how Ebay wanted to change their background colour from yellow to white, but were afraid that if they did it suddenly, users would be annoyed. So they changed it by one shade every day so that it gradually became white over a month. Similarly, if you want to shift to a radically different metaphor, it can only be done over several years and probably 2-3 OS versions.

People hate change, they really, really do. :)
And that's why Microsoft will probably maintain its monopoly.

As for reading Raskin's book, I wasn't commenting on his book; just on the article hyperlinked from this site.

satisficing, not optimizing

Yes, Joe User operates on a model of satisficing, aka if it ain't broke don't fix it, where "ain't broke" = "gets the job done". That's human nature, the result of aeons of evolution.

We are not Joe User

This is what really gripes me about the IA/usability community, that we cannot look at wonderfully radical and creative alternatives because we have to accomodate Joe User. Change cannot happen overnight, but if we have a vision of interfaces 10 years into the future, we can collectively do something to change in the right direction.

Please Read Jef's book.

An open mind

I agree, Timo, that we should be a bit more open minded to challenging ideas such as Raskin's. I think many of us were arguing that the technologies need to get smarter in order to realize the kinds of advances he discussed in that article.

P.S. Humane Interface is sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me to make time for it. You're right that we should read the book first before claiming that we understand what Raskin's vision is about.

No Kidding

A frustration I encounter at least once a day goes something like this:

Working on a document in Word, I copy a block of information on a Web page, then paste the information into the Word document.

How does Word format the text as I paste? Exactly like the text displayed on the Web page (font, color, size, etc.). Why in the world would I want to do that if I want my document to display, well, like the document and not a Web page.

A feature for this board

Michael, is there any way you could set up a "notify me when a new message is posted" feature for IASlash? There are discussions that I'd like to follow, like this one, without having to constantly check on the site if a new comment has been posted.


There is a tracking/notifications module I can install. Will try to do that this week.

Sorry I hadn't done it sooner. Just lazy and busy.