A Brief Reply to ‘A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design’ by Bret Victor

‘Vision Matters’

Victor’s right. About a lot of things. But first about that Microsoft ‘Future Vision’ video at the top of his brief rant. It’s not all that visionary. It’s a design exploration at best. And a huge waste of money on motion graphics at worst.

(Although, actually this was probably a marketing piece much more so than any indication of what Microsoft R&D is working on, Future Vision-wise. It was probably designed by art directors in the marketing department and not user interface or user experience professionals. Which makes the video’s relevancy moot. But, at least, it’s provided us with a really interesting place to start thinking about what we want from our tools [cue: echo SFX] of the Future. )

If movies are any indication, than futuristic has always meant simpler. And simpler has meant flatter and sleeker. As if everyone designing the future has a limited palate of ideas to work with. Eventually everything is pressed into one thin sheet of glass and then that vanishes altogether and we’re left with some sort of floating projection to swat at. At one time these hardware and UI designs were visionary. But now you’ve been communicating with one of these visions for years.

Maybe it’s time to rethink simplicity. Is opening a jar simple? Yeah it is. Of course…that’s opening a jar and not sending an email or color grading an image or sequencing music. But the idea translates: it’s simple and it’s a specific interaction to get a task accomplished and it’s no where close to swiping a screen with a finger.

Giving Us The Finger

Victor makes the observation that almost all of these interactions have been reduced to the use of a finger. And really, just the tip of a finger.

“Hands feel things, and hands manipulate things.”

Why is this when our bodies are so capable? We have an amazing ability to sense and decode feedback from the word around us. Weight, thickness, friction, density, balance, temperature, texture, etc. These are the world’s ways of transferring information.

This Proverbial Wallets Project from the MIT Media Lab is a great example of using dynamic object properties to convey information about the world. It might seem odd or just an interesting exercise, but from Victor’s perspective, an inflatable wallet is way more of a window into the future than the flat pieces of glass we’re used to.