Modeless & Monotonous

sun10sep2006—36w253d69%— 04h29m00s—0utc


I believe that an interface that is both modeless and, insofar as possible, monotonous — all other design features being of at least normal quality for a modern interface — would be extraordinarily pleasant to use. A user would be able to develop an unusually high degree of trust in his habits. The interface would, from these two properties alone, tend to fade from the user’s consciousness, allowing him to give his full attention to the task at hand. The psychological effects of totally (or near totally) modeless and monotonous systems is an area of interface design ripe for experimental study.

If I am correct, the use of a product based on modelessness and monotony would soon become so habitual as to be nearly addictive, leading to a user population devoted to and loyal to the product. Its users would find moving to a competitor’s product psychologically difficult. Unlike selling illicit drugs, marketing an addictive interface is legal, and the product is beneficial to its users; in another way, it is just like selling illicit drugs: extremely profitable.

Jef Raskin, The Humane Interface AM, p68

With modeless he means that “a given user gesture has one and only one result: Gesture g always results in action a.” With monotonous, that “any desired result has only one means by which it may be invoked: Action a is invoked by gesture g and in no other way.”

((It’s surprising how all this can be expressed by saying that we want the relationship between gestures and actions to be a function WP, and an injective WP and surjective WP one at that. In other words, a good interface is a bijective WP interface. I remember how hard those words were to me my first semester studying Math. Never thought I’d find them again studying interfaces!))

And regarding the quote itself, it’s a tough sell, because it goes against many of my computing prejudices. But Raskin just might be right — in a truly revolutionary way. We’ll find out at Domburi. ;)

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