Thursday, April 05, 2007

Paper - Magic Ink: Information Software and the Graphical Interface

This paper, "Magic Ink: Information Software and the Graphical Interface" by Bret Victor, is a powerful argument for why, in designing software, greater emphasis should be given to graphic design and less to interaction. I think there's a good chance it'll go down as paradigm-shifting classic (and I don't mean that just as a buzzword, but as a genuine paradigm shift).

I've only read the first half of it so far -- it's quite long -- but I thought I'd post here to let others know about it.

Here's the abstract

The ubiquity of frustrating, unhelpful software interfaces has motivated decades of research into “Human-Computer Interaction.” In this paper, I suggest that the long-standing focus on “interaction” may be misguided. For a majority subset of software, called “information software,” I argue that interactivity is actually a curse for users and a crutch for designers, and users’ goals can be better satisfied through other means.

Information software design can be seen as the design of context-sensitive information graphics. I demonstrate the crucial role of information graphic design, and present three approaches to context-sensitivity, of which interactivity is the last resort. After discussing the cultural changes necessary for these design ideas to take root, I address their implementation. I outline a tool which may allow designers to create data-dependent graphics with no engineering assistance, and also outline a platform which may allow an unprecedented level of implicit context-sharing between independent programs. I conclude by asserting that the principles of information software design will become critical as technology improves.

Although this paper presents a number of concrete design and engineering ideas, the larger intent is to introduce a “unified theory” of information software design, and provide inspiration and direction for progressive designers who suspect that the world of software isn’t as flat as they’ve been told.

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