How Do We Work with the Machines?
Now that nearly every household object employs complex electrical inner workings, the importance of simplified interfaces is paramount.
Now that nearly every household object employs complex electrical inner workings concealed by a decorative skin, the importance of simplified interfaces is paramount. This new age of consumer electronics can be readily understood as one of the first moments in history in which invention and design were truly married, aligning function with experience.For better or worse, some products that have shaped our world have resulted not from designing for man's best interest, but from simple necessity. Take the layout of the English keyboard, commonly referred to as QWERTY. Long before the advent of the user interface, Christopher Sholes (who invented the modern typewriter in the 1860s) had a problem; as he perfected his invention, he noticed that with an alphabetical arrangement of the keys, neighboring key bars activated in rapid succession were becoming entangled with one another. To mitigate the problem, he rearranged the keys so as to separate the most common letter pairings. The redesign proved successful and the typewriter hammered itself into history.But it turns out that the QWERTY keyboard is rather inefficient. Nearly 70 years later, Dr. August Dvorak, having methodically studied the physiology of typists, came up with an alternative arrangement aimed at alleviating fatigue and increasing productivity. The new keyboard setup, dubbed the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard, has been recognized in many circles as superior, yet QWERTY lingers to this day, largely because of the logistical and financial nightmare of replacing the world's keyboards.The QWERTY keyboard was designed to prevent typewriters from jamming when common letter pairings were struck in rapid succession. Eventually, computing will conceal mechanics entirely. Indeed, user interfaces now deal largely with the virtual. While Apple's new iPhone evinces little change in form from the conventional cell phone, its interactive software represents a radical leap forward. Then again, some conventions just can't be shaken-the iPhone's keypad uses a QWERTY layout, after all.-BRIAN FICHTNER