Category Archives: input device

“I wasn’t trying to make a computer interface, I was just trying to make a drum” – NPR interviews Bill Buxton

NPR interviews Bill Buxton on the technology side and Sherry Turkle on the social impacts side.

The Touchy-Feely Future Of Technology


“I wasn’t trying to make a computer interface, I was just trying to make a drum,” Buxton tells NPR’s Robert Siegel. “Did I envision what was going to happen today, that it would be in everybody’s pocket — in their smartphone? Absolutely not. Did we realize that things were going to be different, that you could do things that we never imagined? … Absolutely.”

Today, Buxton is known as a pioneer in human-computer interaction, a field of computer science that has seen a spike in consumer demand thanks to a new, seemingly ubiquitous technology: Touch.”

“Turkle says that’s because touch-screen devices appeal to a sentiment that pretty much everyone can relate to: the desire to be a kid again.

“[The] fantasy of using your body to control the virtual is a child’s fantasy of their body being connected to the world,” Turkle says. “That’s the child’s earliest experience of the world and it kind of gets broken up by the reality that you’re separate from the world. And what these phones do is bring back that fantasy in the most primitive way.”

And Turkle warns that living in that fantasy world could mean missing out on the real world around you.”



Photo credit at Flickr.

ATM Accessibility (not)

I’m catching up on some older topics I never blogged about. This is one of my favorites.

The Consumerist posted a video of a blind user interacting with an ATM. As they said, “Overall, it seems like whoever designed the ATM didn’t ask a blind person to try it out first.”

Quotes from the video:
(Re: finding the headphone jack) “It was camoflagued, I swear it was camoflagued.”

Then the voice instructs him to press Enter on the keypad and pauses. THEN it describes the location of the enter key on the keypad.

Learning to use a steering wheel with no vision or feedback

Here is a link to an enjoyable radioshow called “99% invisible,” about the “design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.”*

99% Invisible-37- The Steering Wheel

This episode covers the difficulty people have in correctly miming use of a steering wheel (spoiler: they can’t!) and how they can learn to do so correctly with no visual feedback. The researcher interviewed was Steven Cloete, whose website can be found here with more information about research specifics.

99% invisible was recently featured on Radiolab, one of my favorite science podcasts.

*no relation to the 99%.


Image credit ryanready at Flickr

Beyond Touch: the future of interaction

Follow the link to read “A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design” by Bret Victor. The briefest of summaries would be that we over-use simple touch in our visions of the future, when we could be including many other cues, such as weight and balance.

From the post:

If you’re with me so far, maybe I can nudge you one step further. Look down at your hands. Are they attached to anything? Yes — you’ve got arms! And shoulders, and a torso, and legs, and feet! And they all move!

Any dancer or doctor knows full well what an incredibly expressive device your body is. 300 joints! 600 muscles! Hundreds of degrees of freedom!

The next time you make breakfast, pay attention to the exquisitely intricate choreography of opening cupboards and pouring the milk — notice how your limbs move in space, how effortlessly you use your weight and balance. The only reason your mind doesn’t explode every morning from the sheer awesomeness of your balletic achievement is that everyone else in the world can do this as well.

With an entire body at your command, do you seriously think the Future Of Interaction should be a single finger?



Photo credit jstarpl @ Flickr

Rudder knob in cockpit mistaken for door latch

Any aviation experts want to chime in about a knob turning a plane upside down? Also, please note this was characterized as “pilot error.”

Pilot error causes airliner to flip, fly upside down

From the article:

According to the safety board, an analysis of the aircraft’s digital flight recorder indicated the co-pilot, alone in the cockpit while the captain used a restroom, mistakenly turned the rudder trim knob twice to the left for a total of 10 seconds.

The co-pilot apparently mistook the knob for the cockpit door-lock switch as he tried to let the captain back in. The mistake is believed to have caused the airplane to tilt leftward and descend rapidly.


Update on the BMW iDrive

Nice writeup by BimmerFile on the iDrive, a single-button input device for the non-driving functions of the BMW. I’ve excerpted my favorite portions below — specifically their connection of iDrive design to the proximity-compatibility principle and the principles of importance and frequency of use.

 BimmerFile was recently invited to Munich and into the very secret BMW labs that birthed the original HMI interface known as iDrive. There we sat down with Dr. Bernarhd Neidermaier, Head of Human Interface at BMW to talk about iDrive, the concept, and testing behind the ideas we see in modern BMWs.

As Dr. Neidermaier explained, it all starts with the study of driver distraction. In fact, it’s an idea that BMW has been studying closely since the mid 1990′s. In recent year,s BMW has moved to using eye tracking technology to better quantify what it really means to take your eyes off the road in order to interact with technology. With a special rig that consists of tiny camera attached to glasses (focusing on the eye) and another focusing on what the driver looks at, the eye-tracking process allows BMW to calculate the exact time it takes to perform any function within the car.

Finally BMW has found that controls should be located downwards (towards the center console) so the driver can operate them without having to lift their shoulder from the seat. According to BMW engineers, if your shoulder lifts and you have your seat properly adjusted the HMI design isn’t optimal. As you can see in the photo below all modern BMW’s (in this case an F10 5 Series) have been following both of these philosophies that were initially established with the E65 7 Series in 2001.

Furthermore, those functions that are needed for driving must be situated directly in front of the driver. It sounds obvious but there have been many examples over the years of driving related displays pushed towards the center. In the case of the MINI, the center speedometer. Although BMW made sure to give the driver a digital speed read-out in the tachometer directly in front of them. Without it, BMW’s smallest car would fail their own usability testing.

Based on the research a driver’s information goes from center to the sides in order of importance. That means the tertiary stuff like oil temp etc. should be well out of the way of the speed and engine RPMs.

Click here to read the entire article.

There is also a publication of this process available through the ACM Library.

Niedermaier, B., Durach, S., Eckstein, L., & Keinath, A.(2009). The new BMW iDrive – Applied processes and methods to assure high usability. ICDHM ’09 Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Digital Human Modeling: Held as Part of HCI International 2009.

Photo credit _benj_ at Flickr (I could not find any creative commons pictures of the 2011 iDrive, so this is older. Pictures are available in the linked article, however.)

Also, check out the DESIGNING*for humans blog section on Control & Display Design.

Don Norman Chimes in on Scrolling Direction

Touch Usability points to a nice Don Norman post about new gesture scrolling differences primarily instigated by Apple.  As a side note, i’ve fully converted to the “content moves” model (at home, work, laptop) and did not find the transition unusual at all.  As Norman notes, it just required a subtle mental shift in my model:

Both models are correct in the sense that both make logical sense. The “correct” answer is that the method of scrolling should match the user’s conceptual model of the activity (usually called the user’s mental model). Whichever method is adopted then requires that all people learn to see the world through that particular conceptual model.

It helps that I use all Macs (with Magic Trackpads and Magic Mice).  When I move to a PC, the switch back to “old world” scrolling is almost effortless after a quick re-orientation.

“The Capacitive Button Cult Must Be Stopped”

I completely agree:

A capacitive button has no place on a phone, and the people who are pushing it into the marketplace are over-fetishizing visual design to the detriment of the overall experience. Which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

Nokia seems to think otherwise.

Design Dare via Daring Fireball

Driven to Distraction

This editorial from MSN Autos nicely summarizes a topic we’ve covered many times:  in-car technology interfering with driving.  The central problem appears to be that in-car interfaces are designed in isolation–devoid of the context in which they will actually be used (while driving).  So the designs demand a high amount of attention and concentration.

Expert on human-automation interaction Dr. John D. Lee is quoted in the article.

But most automotive experts agree that screen and voice-control systems are here to stay. There are guidelines for good interactive system design; the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers published a 90-page document outlining the best practices for the industry in 2006. It’s long-winded and a bit dated, but Lee of the University of Wisconsin-Madison summarizes the basic wisdom of the document in a few points:

  • Complex displays that require the driver to search for information using glances longer than two seconds should be avoided.
  • The interaction should not “time out” or force the driver to attend continually to the task. The driver should be able to interrupt the task easily and return attention to the road.
  • Visual information should be placed near the driver’s line of sight.
  • The display should be easily readable with text and icons that can be seen at a glance.

[MSN Autos; thanks Jeremy!]