Paper and User Interface

Today I watched a great conversation. It answered a question that I was having for quite some time: Why do great visual thinkers (such as Sunni Brown, Amanda Lyons, Giula Forsythe, or Dave Gray) still prefer paper and pen, while I myself was so happy that I can use technology to redraw, erase, rearrange, connect my drawings and rearrange them again like never before?

I watched Dave Gray using his little white cards, while thinking aloud (or should I say painting aloud) as he discussed design issues with usability expert Christina Wodtke.

While they were talking about the interaction between the human and their machine, he used his cards with a virtuosity that no current user interface could have allowed him. Had he used a large electronic canvas, he could as well have gradually developped their joint ideas on different parts of the emerging rich picture, and he could have erased and rearranged them as necessary. But the interface controls for such actions are still too much distracting and disrupting.

They talked about the requests which the human directs to their machine, and the responses which the machine gives back. But do I really want the computer as a peer? separated from myself by a “medium”? No, I want immediate vision of what I am thinking of, without switching into the little left-brained subprogram that consists of: press a button and wait for a 1/4 second for my goal to be completed by another actor. I want to directly look at what I select with my mouse, as if I steered my gaze with my mouse, to an extension of my own scope, not to the output of a peer actor. (This is why I favor the “coordinated views” paradigm used here.)

Dave Gray explained how often abstractions lead astray. Paper, by contrast, has retained some of the immediacy that interaction design is often still missing.

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