Creating the invisible interface
For thirty years, most interface design, and most computer design, has been headed down the path of the “dramatic” machine. Its highest ideal is to make a computer so exciting, so wonderful so interesting, that we never want to be without it. A less-traveled path I call the “invisible”; its highest ideal is to make a computer so imbedded, so fitting, so natural, that we use it without even thinking about it. (I have also called this notion “Ubiquitous Computing.”) I believe that in the next twenty years the second path will come to dominate. But this will not be easy; very little of our current systems infrastructure will survive. We have been building versions of the infrastructure-to-come at PARC for the past four years, in the form of inch-, foot-, and yard-sized computers we call Tabs, Pads, and Boards. In this talk I will describe the humanistic origins of the “invisible” ideal in post-modernist thought. I will then describe some of our prototypes, how they succeed and fail to be invisible, and what we have learned. I will illustrate new systems issues that user interface designers will face when creating invisibility. And I will indicate some new directions we are now exploring, including the famous “dangling string” display.