Practically No Interface Conventions

The last and biggest limitation in the early nineties was the utter lack of experience with interactive media, on the part of users and designers alike. There was literally no common visual language.

Today’s designer pride themselves on usability, and rightly so. But at least part of the credit must go the the user-base, who have patiently and unconsciously absorbed a whole cannon of interface design conventions. So educated are today’s users that they can even plod through bad design and find what they're looking for.

We were allowed to assume nothing about the users’ prior experience with a computer. To an artist, this was liberating: every project was a blank slate, there were no rules, no experts, no crutches. Our common ground with the user was our common relationship with the physical world (two eyes at the front of our head), our experience with older media, and the expectations established by science fiction (especially Star Trek and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).

Today we take so much for granted; some forms of ugliness are so common, and so fundamental, that they’ve become invisible to users and designers alike. We’ve mentioned some known examples: reader-hostile typography, and haphazard screen builds. Certainly, more systemic ugliness is waiting to be discovered. The only sure way to detect it by testing with a truly naive user. note

In conclusion, I’m going to repeat the point I always harp on: as we move to new interactive platforms - mobile phones, pdas, children’s toys - you have to leave web thinking behind, and start fresh. For that matter, throw out your web thinking when designing a web site and see what happens. Any medium is a new medium if you want it to be. I guarantee that this will sound much more profound over a pint, so feel free to buy us one. Smackerel’s phone number is 416 532-0039

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Page: LFL05 version: 0.9 | 02.14.2005