An Interface-Off

At what point does the interface you are trying to use become too onerous to learn and adopt?

First computer mouse

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I have spent most of my IT career trying to use the mechanical interface between me and the software on my computer. Much of it not very intuitive and the most often used was invented many years ago and was designed to slow me down: the QWERTY keyboard. The mouse was developed by Douglas Engelbert at the Stanford Research Institute and one of his goals was to “develop a system orientated discipline for designing the means by which greater effectiveness can be achieved”. Nice and catchy, I can’t think why it didn’t catch on! If you have the time, take a look at this site showing his amazing work in the 1960’s and how even then live demos were a nightmare.

But going back to my first point, it always takes longer if the interface you use requires learning different skills especially if they are not always associated with what you are trying to achieve.

For years we have been trying to overcome this, the QWERTY keyboard is 150 years old and the mouse is nearly 50 years old. There are a plethora of new bits of kit out there, including some I have used like the MYO and Leap Motion. Both show how gesture-based interfaces are really catching on and even though they are still in their infancy you can see how they will develop and become a permanent part of our technological world.

But let’s hold on a minute. Is there something else we should be thinking about? How about an interface that is a lot older and impossible to ignore. This interface has billions of parts and without this interface we could not even start pondering the rest. This interface fires off an incredible 86 billion to 17.2 trillion actions per second. For all of you that have read my blogs before you will know that I have a particular affinity with this interface. We all know it as the brain; some would call my affinity an obsession, but that’s the brain for you!

It does not matter how good the hardware or software are. If the cohesion between the two, as well as your brain, are not strong enough you will not want to use it. As pointed out in the 2014 Successful BI Survey report authored by BI Scorecard, BI adoption as a percentage of employees remains flat at 22 percent, but companies who have successfully deployed mobile BI show the highest adoption at 42 percent of employees. Our brains actually make a decision on whether we like something or not 20 milliseconds before we are even consciously aware of it. So if you get that bit wrong, you won’t even know it until it’s too late.

Image Source: SRI International (SRI International) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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