Multi-touch: Why the iPhone Matters

By Noah | Add a comment | 

The introduction of the iPhone heralded the mainstreaming of a new interface paradigm. Features and form factor aside, the multi-touch interface represents the first major interface change since the introduction of the Macintosh GUI in 1984, and a notable shift in the right direction.

Twenty years ago, Donald Norman described the relationship between a control and its effect as mapping. “Natural mapping, by which I mean taking advantage of physical analogies and cultural standards, leads to immediate understanding.” (Norman, D. 1990. The Design of Everyday Things. Doubleday/Currency. P23.) Unfortunately, when there is not a “natural mapping,” understanding is anything but immediate.

Technology interfaces are difficult to design and learn because interfaces have moved further and further away from natural mappings. When the tool in question is an axe or a spoon, the relationship between the control and its effect is clear and direct. Similarly, for simple mechanical tools such as food grinders, adjustable wrenches, latches, and the like, it’s not too difficult to divine the function with no documentation. The interface is inseparable from the tool or device, and the mapping is strong. keep reading…

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Generation of Complex Diagrams: How to Make Lasagna Instead of Spaghetti

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Update 2011: Many of the ideas in this thesis have evolved and been carried over into my book Designing Data Visualizations.

My master’s thesis is a system for creating good diagrams. It starts with the basics of perception and cognition, and walks the reader through the process of making appropriate choices for their particular design problem.

[download page: 10MB PDF]

From the abstract:
This thesis presents a system for the generation of complex diagrams. “Complexity” is defined as a measure of distinct data types that are independently visually encoded. Diagrams representing four or more types of data are defined as complex, while diagrams representing three or fewer are simple. Successful generation of complex diagrams is dependent on appropriate design choices. Five fundamental principles are introduced to guide the choices made by the diagram designer. The two contextual fundamental principles are “different goals require different methods,” addressing the needs of the diagram designer, and “audience brings context with them,” addressing the needs and context of the diagram reader. The three perceptual fundamental principles are the “principle of information availability,” which guides the selection and density of the diagram elements, the “principle of semantic distance,” which guides the spatial placement and grouping of the diagram elements, and the “principle of informative changes,” which guides the visual encoding of the diagram elements. A review of the diagram design process, comprising selection, encoding, and placement of the diagram components, is given. For each phase of the design process the influence of the appropriate fundamental principles is discussed, and the fundamental principles are extended into applied guidelines and suggestions.

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