SxSW: The Death of the Desktop

by Luke Wroblewski March 12, 2007

Aza Raskin discussed and demoed reasons behind the Death of the Desktop at South by Southwest 2007. In particular he focused on why the application model was broken and how zooming interfaces and the Web could move us forward.

  • Certain fundamental truths about how people work are called cognetics. We need to design interfaces that work according to cognetics (the ergonomics of the brain). Example: can’t hold more than 7+- 2 things in short term memory
  • Designers need to learn what it is that users are capable of.
  • GOMs modeling: How fast an interface is. Lets you take an interface and determine how long it will take a user to use an it.
  • Information efficiency: how much information do you need to put into a system vs. how much is actually needed.
  • An Interface is the way you accomplish tasks with a product and how it responds. To the user, the interface is the product.
  • We spend a lot of time fiddling with our computers. Instead we should be getting things done.
  • Litmus test for a good interface: how long is the manual? When you set out to design an interface, write the manual first.
  • The Problem lies with Applications. They have been with us for so long that we don’t think about why they are bad.
  • Get a lot of system bloat because all applications try to subsume all features (photo editing, document editing, etc.) Each application has a dictionary.
  • What does an interface allow you to do: Create content, Navigate content, Select content, Transform content
  • When designing always return to these four things. Think of an interface in these four blocks.
  • Laws for interfaces:
    • An interface shall not harm your content or, through inaction, allow your content to come to harm.
    • An interface shall not waste your time or require you to do more work than is strictly necessary.
    • An interface shall not allow itself to get into a state where it cannot manipulate content.
  • Content is everything: users are always manipulating content. It should be first or foremost in your thinking.
  • What dooms the desktop: it’s not about content.
  • What does the desktop do: get computer into a state where you can enter content, categorize content, navigate content
  • Language has untapped power. Language lets you describe things concisely and quickly.
  • A Web browser’s URL bar is a command line: type and get content.
  • Tags and search are the death of forced hierarchy. Already happening on the Web and will be a boom for the desktop.
  • Tags don’t force people to think like computer hard drives.
  • Let content be content
  • Let search be search: don’t force people to categorize too much.
  • Let 2D content be 2D (Windows are 3D). Expose is good. Microsoft rolodex view is not bad. Navigating through 3D is hard.
  • Let the user’s structure be (don’t force hierarchies). Don’t make people think about things the way the developers did.
  • Zoom interface does not require people to use 3D. Scales on multiple screens.
  • Teaching nurses to use zoom interface took 45 seconds. Teaching them to use standard desktop application took 2-3 days.
  • Once you can move between places with search & tags, you don’t need the desktop.
  • Have not seen changes on the Desktop because of toolkits that make it easy to make interfaces.
  • We have a unique opportunity to not return to the desktop online. The Web provides a solution to applications: services & universal access interface.
  • Universal access for the vast power of the Web. Need a vast semantic method.
  • Marry GUIs with command lines, command lines with semantic understanding, and semantic understanding with services (web apps).