A new Metaphor for the Interaction Design
or, Why every UX designer should read Ted Nelson
or, at least for a short read, Ted Nelson’s Computer Paradigm, Expressed as One-Liners.
There are days in a design professional’s life where one seriously has to wonder whether people actually play buzzword-bingo with industry jargon, or use a jargon-generator (even poetically) just to sound knowledgeable, or to lament on something that better be not discussed in concrete terms like implementation, value-add etc ….Well, sometimes it helps, and I’m specially a fan of doing this to jump out of comfort zone. But then, what are the safe constraints within which this can be used? Does this always have to be based on a moderator’s approach, or are there conventional techniques emerging around this, say like brainstorming? How much a humorous, irreverent take on prized and often taken for granted concepts in UI/UX design are challenged, and challenged in a thoroughly humorous way….
On such a day, if you are discussing about a metaphor, here is a good reference
… I have never personally seen a desktop where pointing at a lower piece of paper makes it jump to the top, or where placing a sheet of paper on top of a file folder causes the folder to gobble it up. I do not believe such desks exist; and I do not think I would want one if I did.
– Ted Nelson [actual quote picked from Interfaces- Issue 58, and not found in its entirety elsewhere essentially because WWW consists of only forward ever-breaking links with no reference back to source at all, and largely because today’s WWW is mix of PDF, Flash and larger evils that Ted did not foresee]
But why is it important for UX designers?
Ted Nelson’s motto happens to be “A user interface should be so simple that a beginner in an emergency can understand it within ten seconds.”
and his four maxims are “ most people are fools,  most authority is malignant,  God does not exist, and  everything is wrong”
and, he is credited for coining the terms that include “hypertext” and “hypermedia” (1965); “zipper lists” (1965); “softcopy” (1967); “image synthesis” (1970); “electronic visualization” (1972– and thus the later “computer visualization”, “scientific visualization”); etc
Plus, and very importantly, his lifetime vision was “Xanadu” – described as an improvement over world wide web, a computer network with simple user interface that allows a user to work with parallel documents– pages connected side-by-side by many connections. And this is an improvement because Ted Nelson thought most of the early computers were simulating word-processors, and thus ended up simulating paper. Xanadu asked WHY? and suggested that Computers should allow us to improve on paper.
Xanadu implementation was started in 1960, and first incomplete version was out in 1998. The last update was in 2007 as v1.0 – The current status is still unclear.
Coming back to the Metaphor and the Interaction design, story of Ted Nelson and Xanadu is an example of how a novel, innovative idea can find financial backing etc and still be 30 years late, and that all the creative (and technical) genius that a person is, still needs the elusive factor of luck and chance perhaps. What is that makes the other idea of WWW – by Tim Berners Lee much later in 1980, incidentally based on the very concept of Hyperlink – more successful?
Was it hindsight vision? individual brilliance? or simplicity of the concept? or was it just perceived to be feasible-enough- a lower hanging fruit, enabling it to get the right talent and money invested at the right time, and scaled globally ??
Some answers to find out, but without getting into the details and taking sides, it is still pretty much engrossing to see how Ted Nelson viewed computers – and the evils associated, and that can be food for thought for any UX and computers person, any day.
For now, just for example, let’s ask what is the difference of hypertext – as visualized in Xanadu, vs., as implemented in WWW. and the bingo words are
- Paradigm shift
- web 2.0
- Perception Management
- Personality Management
- Need Vs Want
- Knowing Doing Gap
- Lower Entry Barrier
- Former was user friendly by supposition of intent, and the latter is made user friendly by disposition of experts
Hmm, need new and more! and its no fun without chance to use the browsers, Flash, PDF and the sundry evils that haunt design of the web today….