Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Universal Design: Touch Screen Wars




Let me begin this entry by stating that the above sites are RUMOR sites. That being said, come dream with me.

We all have fallen in love with iTouch and the Surface. The change in size is a natural evolution of the product, but I think, as a technology person, it is more important to speak for a moment about WHY we love them so.

Universal Design:
"Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." –Ron Mace (http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud/index.htm)

ADA compliance often adds Universal Design into our online environments and products. That nice ease down from a side walk at a crosswalk is a phenomenal example of how helping those with challenges helps those without the challenge too.

Universal Design is why we love our touch screen products so much. They have a way of doing things the way we naturally do them.

If three sheets of paper were laying on the table and you wanted to read the bottom one, you would slide the top two out of your way. That's how it works on a touch screen. Your natural movements and tendencies are met and there is no technological barrier to your work. Can't type? Speech to text and speech activation are natural ways we work as well. Optical Character Recognition and handwriting to text with pens on touch screens are wonderful for technophobes and non-typers.

I have two technophobes for parents, but even my Mom who can't type or program a VCR loves products like the Surface. They make her feel comfortable because they work the way the real world works. They don't make her learn new skills that are not part of her basic education from the K-12 world of the 40's. They just do what she wants to do without requiring her to think about the how. Writing a note means getting out the stylus. Send is pushing a button like your phone. She get's that.

Ok, I will admit that they are great for people like me as well. As part of the new language that my generation has developed through the net, the new touch products allow us to converse in pictures, sound, quick doodles, video clips, and SMS. I love how easy it is to say more with less. Email..blah (Google Wave I heart you.)

A funny conversation with my significant other about touch screen products engendered this article. We are both on a quest for iPhones or a netbook. We have been looking at products and comparing features, but found ourselves sliding into conversations about Sci-Fi films like Star Trek. There is a funny moment in one of the Star Trek movies in which they are in the 1980's/90's earth. They try to use a computer by speaking to it. Obviously the computer does nothing. They are told to use the mouse. They pick up the mouse and try to use it like a microphone.

Both my significant other and I agreed that in 10 years kids won't know what to do with a mouse. In 50 we might have those amazing computer projection walls that allow us to move content around, talk, and reason with our working partner, "Computer."

Computers are an extension of the human mind. We continually look for ways to make them work the way we do. Right now, small steps like touch screens make us more comfortable, but in 20 years, who knows what Universal Design will do for us.

Keyword for next entry: Fuzzy Logic

Until next time, keep an eye out for Universal Design in all your techno products. Think about HOW you work so that you can buy things that work the way you work. It's nice when you don't have to train your gadgets to help you, they just help you.

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