“This sucks!”, sighed Lisa. The sound of the monotonous key presses and clicks was echoing the silent co-working space on Sunday afternoon.
Clearly sensing the frustration, a little carefully, I asked, “What’s wrong?”, sipping my coffee comfortably.
“I’m not able to get this done the way I want. Well, I’m making progress, but it almost feels like this damn keyboard itself is getting in my way.”
Lisa is a painter turned graphic designer. She grew up with pencils, paints, brushes, canvases. They were her friends. Holding the pencil and brushes while staring at an empty canvas was her creative meditation. The feel of the brush, the smell of the paints, feeling the texture of the canvas with the fingers was all part of the creative process. She felt fully immersed and her tools were guiding force of her creative genius.
However, the limited prospects of making a living out of being a painter pushed her to become a graphic designer. She had to make new friends – Keyboard, Mouse & co. Sadly though, they weren’t designed for an artist.
The keyboard evolved from the typewriter whose primary objective was text entry. Following the decline of punch cards and paper tape, interaction via teleprinter-style keyboards became the main input device for computers. With progression of computers from commercial to personal usage, the usability and software design went through radical changes. Graphical interfaces lead to invention of the mouse as we know it. The computer, as of now, is the juggernaut of many peoples’ work, learning and fun.
Software can do more day after day. The ability to do more doesn’t come without overwhelming complexity which we try to handle with better user interface design. Menus creep into menu-trees. Important actions hide behind sub-menus, tabs and dialogs. Sure there are keyboard shortcuts. However, they increase cognitive load, miss the “feel” and continue to obstruct the flow.
I have a theory that every kind of work is a kind of art. Every artist has his tool which is his best friend, motivation, support and source of joy. We’re the creators of tomorrow, but we’re using the tools of yesterday.
There are more professionals working with computers than ever before. Software is being developed and designed for professionals. Hardware, not so much.
Lisa’s frustration is synonymous to a programmer’s frustration while juggling a terminal window, an editor, a CI server. Or an industrial designer juggling Rhinoceros, Keyshot and Adobe Illustrator. Or even a content manager, project manager, an architect or a photographer. We all end up using browsers, project management tools, communication tools like emails, chat clients and creativity catalysts like Spotify. Sadly enough the experience of these year 2014 tools revolves around the age-old physical tools of keyboard and mouse. We lose precision and feeling of control. The frustrations, annoyance and distraction is another story.
It’s not like we don’t know this. Invention and wide-spread adoption of touch-screens was one of the major break-throughs in modern interface design. And we’re slowly working on voice recognition, BCI etc. We’re improving but we need to keep going and faster. The answer doesn’t lie only in ground-breaking technologies we have to wait to be invented by the giants in the industry. We, the makers and doers, are capable enough to take this monster down bit by bit. Together with a careful design and assembly of technologies, we can begin to solve this problem.