The Periphery, Context and Intent: Architectural Considerations in the Design of Interactive Appliances


Principal, Buxton Design
888 Queen St. East
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M4M 1J3

Abstract. Much of the focus in the design and human factors of complex, but ubiquitous systems (such as telephones) has been on the usability and learnability of specific features. In the early days, this would have included the industrial design of the dial. More recently, the choice of coding the functions of voicemail would be an example.

While this class of consideration remains important, it is no longer sufficient. In fact, it is increasingly becoming secondary to the success, value usability and usefulness of the product. As we add more and more features, this will become increasingly true, especially if we continue along our current paths and criteria of analysis and evaluation.

Why? The reason lies in a classic forest vs. trees situation. As long as there are few trees, the "tree" (feature) and the "forest" (system) are almost the same thing. However, as we add features, no matter how well each tree is formed, the overall design of the forest may constitute a veritable maze, in which any normal person would become lost.

In this case, the quality of the design of the forest becomes more important to the intended user than any of the trees. The objective of this paper is to address some of the design issues that emerge from this seemingly trivial analysis, and to make a strong argument that the way to do a better job at what we are trying to do is to stop doing what we are doing, and follow a different path. Hopefully, the result will be a reasonable aid in navigating the maze. Chainsaws and landscaping tools will be provided.

Biography. Bill Buxton is a designer and a researcher concerned with human aspects of technology.  His work reflects a particular interest in the use of technology to support creative activities such as design, film making and music.  Buxton's research specialties include technologies, techniques and theories of input to computers,  technology mediated human-human collaboration, and ubiquitous computing He is currently Principal of his own boutique design and consulting firm, Buxton Design, where his time is split between working  for clients, and trying to finish a long-delayed book.  He is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of TorontoFrom 1994 until December 2002, he was Chief Scientist of Alias|Wavefront , and from 1995, its parent company SGI Inc . Bill holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Queen's University and an M.Sc. in Computer Science on Computer Music from the University of Toronto.

A more complete biography can be found at .