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Information and the world of tomorrow. Why all this matters. It cannot be seen or touched. It is not composed of matter at all. However, it is very real. It can perform intellectual work. It can answer questions. It can affect the world by disbursing money at a bank or by controlling a robot arm in a factory.
He slung some weighty stones, to be sure, but their placement had only to please a subterranean audience whose interest in the matter was rapidly decomposing. The dead are notoriously unpicky. Instead, their vivified creations often resemble those of Frankenstein—helpless, unhelpful, maddeningly stupid, and prone to accidental destruction.
For decades, the usability pundits have devoted vim and vitriol to a crusade against frustrating interfaces. Yet, software has remained frustrating, and as the importance of software to society has grown, so too has the crisis.
The crusade marches on, with believers rarely questioning the sacred premise—that software must be interactive in the first place.
Perhaps the spark of life is misdirected magic. What is software design? A person experiences modern software almost exclusively through two channels: She reads and interprets pictures on a screen.
She points and pushes at things represented on the screen, using a mouse as a proxy finger. Thus, software design involves the design of two types of artifact: These are not brave new realms of human endeavor. We share the blood of cavemen who pushed spears into mammoths and drew pictures of them in the living room.
By now, these two activities have evolved into well-established design disciplines: Graphic design is the art of conveying a message on a two-dimensional surface.
This is a broad field, because people have such a variety of messages to convey—identity, social status, emotion, persuasion, and so on. Most relevant to software is a branch that Edward Tufte calls information design—the use of pictures to express knowledge of interest to the reader.
Some products of conventional information graphic design include bus schedules, telephone books, newspapers, maps, and shopping catalogs. A good graphic designer understands how to arrange information on the page so the reader can ask and answer questions, make comparisons, and draw conclusions.
When the software designer defines the visual representation of her program, when she describes the pictures that the user will interpret, she is doing graphic design, whether she realizes this or not.
Industrial design is the art of arranging and shaping a physical product so it can be manipulated by a person. This too is a broad field, because people work with such a variety of objects—cutlery to chairs, cell phones to cars.
A good industrial designer understands the capabilities and limitations of the human body in manipulating physical objects, and of the human mind in comprehending mechanical models.
A camera designer, for example, shapes her product to fit the human hand. Just as importantly, she designs an understandable mapping from physical features to functions—pressing a button snaps a picture, pulling a lever advances the film, opening a door reveals the film, opening another door reveals the battery.
Although software is the archetypical non-physical product, modern software interfaces have evolved overtly mechanical metaphors. Buttons are pushed, sliders are slid, windows are dragged, icons are dropped, panels extend and retract.
People are encouraged to consider software a machine—when a button is pressed, invisible gears grind and whir, and some internal or external state is changed. Manipulation of machines is the domain of industrial design. When the software designer defines the interactive aspects of her program, when she places these pseudo-mechanical affordances and describes their behavior, she is doing a virtual form of industrial design.
Whether she realizes it or not. The software designer can thus approach her art as a fusion of graphic design and industrial design. What is software for? Software is for people.Good job citing! Now get peace of mind. Scan your paper for grammar mistakes and catch unintentional plagiarism.
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