My First TorCHI Meeting

I went to my first TorCHI meeting at Autodesk Toronto office last night. I was also my first time driving to Toronto downtown. Although the driving was a little challenging, the presentation was worth the adventure. The presentation titled "Unnatural User Interfaces" is by Gordon Kurtenbach, director of research at Autodesk. One of his key messages of the talk is:

Accelerating the rate at which novice users can perform at expert level.

In other words, we are trying to minimize users' learning curve with a new application or tool. I like how he broke down the learning process into "Novice Component," "Transition Component," and "Expert Component." Both novice and expert components are relatively easy to understand and design in my opinion. A lot of applications have a novice version (usually with fewer features and a simpler interface) and a complete version for power users. An example would be Vista Home Basic edition vs. Vista Ultimate edition.  I think the real challenge is to design the transition component. How can we (i.e. designers) provide a bridge so that novice users can become experts in a short period of time? In the "Marking menu" example that Gordon gave, the system let novice users make menu selections first and provide assistance when they cannot quickly make a selection. So, next time, the novice users will be able to make the same selection much faster like experts. It's about guiding novices to behave like experts.

Another great way to speedup a novice performing like a expert is to design interfaces based on using transferable skills. Gordon gave the tape drawing example. Many car designers can outline the shape of a car using physical tape, which allows them to draw real-sized car outlines. However, theses outlines are physical objects and cannot be transferred digitally and shared. Gordon's group designed a digital interface ( a large screen display) for the car designers to outline car shape. Although the interface is totally unnatural to the designers, they were able to use their old skills on the new interface and perform like expert very quickly. I think by calling "unnatural UIs", he really means innovative and easy to adapt UIs.

Other interesting topics include easy 3D navigation systems, tracking menus, and fluid tablet drawing programs. I found the talk was very informational and inspirational.

To see upcoming TorCHI events, go here.

Thanks, Qixing