Review: The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design

The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design is a like a pot-luck supper. There's a whole section of appetizers, another of entrees, the salad section, the condiments, and the desserts. Some dishes were well prepared. Some were dished up at the local supermarket, with the contributor rationalizing, "At least I brought something." Some people opted for pre-packaged condiments. Some dishes are old favorites. Some are quite exotic. What is most appealing are the stories that come with each dish.

The book began as a concept for an Apple human-computer interface (HCI) design training course. Over the course of three years, it grew into a training book for Apple employees. It then expanded into a trade book through which Apple authors could publish and wound up as this volume on human-computer interfaces with a mix of Apple and non-Apple authors and Brenda Laurel as editor.

There are five sections to The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design, each with its own introduction, and a postscript. The section on Creativity and Design is valid ten years later. Several authors address the artist/programmer dilemma of HCI. All emphasize and anecdote the need for user input from the start of the design process. Several touch on consistency in design, using the Apple trash can as example of the struggle to balance a consistent metaphor with usability.

The section on Users and Contexts leaves one asking, "And what came next?" The research described in these articles was in progress at the time of writing. Ten years later, Hypercard, LOGO, command-line gaming, and electronic mail as groupware are outdated. One discussion of the Apple desktop metaphor poignantly concludes "That is the danger, that the metaphor has faded" (Swigart, 1990, p. 141).

Sermons is the most inconsistent section in the book, with authors familiar, unfamiliar, and novel (Timothy Leary?) contributing both much and little. Alan Kay introduces the section by predicting a paradigm shift in the 90s to the use of agents-"computer processes that act as guide, coach, and amanuensis" (Kay, 1990, p. 203). The use of metaphor in HCI comes under attack in this section also.

Technique and Technology presents what must have been cutting edge research in Apple at the time of writing. However the discussions of animation, color, hypertext, and gestures seem lame ten years later. What remains timely in this section is that it reiterates the theme of user involvement in the design process.

New Directions provides a strong argument for the use of agents. It includes an interesting description of a Hypercard application developed by Apple for Grolier that uses agents called guides. The use of natural language as a metaphor for HCI provides a different approach to and some interesting insights into the use of context and multihandedness (Buxton, 1990, p. 412).

One of the last articles in the Art of Human-Computer Interface Design is representative of the book's weaknesses. The article discusses the integration of computers and television - definitely a topic of interest and potential. But, rather than presenting the possibilities, the author briefly touches on pseudo-technical barriers to the integration. Surely someone representing Lucasfilm, Ltd. could have provided the reader with more guidelines to HCI than "Interface designers who ignore its (television's) limitations do so at their own peril" (Crockford, 1990, 462).

The book's strengths are varied. It is not obsolete as Brenda Laurel had hoped (Laurel, 1990, p. 482). It provides an historical and portentous perspective into Apple's decline. It provides peeks at HCI research that were, it seems, neglected in adherence to the desktop metaphor. It provides practical examples of solid interface design. All in all, the reader should act as an epicure when reading The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design and select those dishes which they find palatable and nourishing.
References:

 Buxton, B. (1990). The "natural" language of interaction: a perspective on nonverbal dialogues. In B. Laurel (Ed.), The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

 Crockford, D. (1990). Integrating computers and Television. In B. Laurel (Ed.), The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

 Laurel, B. (1990). Postscript: on visions, monsters, and artificial life. In B. Laurel (Ed.), The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

 Kay, A. (1990). User interface: a personal view. In B. Laurel (Ed.), The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

 Swigart, R. (1990). A writer's desktop. In B. Laurel (Ed.), The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Lorraine Hahn
Northern Illinois University
LEIT 592
Email: mhahn@starnetinc.net


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