Future Shocked

For even when they are otherwise identical, there are likely to be marked psychological differences between one product and another. Advertisers strive to stamp each product with its own distinct image. These images are functional: they fill a need on the part of the consumer. The need is psychological, however, rather than utilitarian in the ordinary sense. Thus we find that the term “quality” increasingly refers to the ambience, the status associations—in effect, the psychological connotations of the product.

As more and more of the basic materials needs of the consumer are met, it is strongly predictable that even more economic energy will be directed at meeting the consumer’s subtle, varied and quite personal needs for beauty, prestige, individuation, and sensory delight. The manufacturing sector will channel ever greater resources into the conscious design of psychological distinctions and gratifications. The psychic component of goods production will assume increasing importance.

Alvin Toffler, “Future Shock”, 1970 (pp. 223–224)

Reading at 160ppi

Prior to the unveiling of Books.app, a book reader for the iPhone, I’d begun working on my own design. I figured the iPhone would be fairly comfortable for extended reading due to the bright display and high pixel density (which allows it to render text closer to print quality). Thanks to Chris Messina for the Keynote template with basic iPhone images he posted.

Book List

The screen you initially see after pressing the Books app icon on the Home screen:

iPhone books sorted by author

Pressing Title switches the sorting method:

iPhone books sorted by title


Pressing Search on the bottom button row triggers a sliding transition; the navigation buttons are replaced by a search field and Search button. The keyboard appears below.

iPhone book search

iPhone book search results

Pressing Books returns to the list with the last active sort in effect.

Table of Contents

Nothing too special…

Dune table of contents

Book Info

Additional book details such as the original publisher and publication date. I haven’t settled on exactly what metadata should be displayed here.

Book information

Pressing the cover overlays a large version. The two-fingered spread/pinch gesture could zoom in and out.

Enlarged book cover


Assuming an index is embedded in the book file (or automagically generated), this would be an alternative to Search.

Alphabetical book index

Pressing on a index entry displays excerpts of sentences containing the phrase in order of appearance. Pressing one of these navigates to the page.

Index of Baron Von Harkonnen

The Book

The page structure of the physical book should be retained, but a continuous scrolling interface sounds better to me than using paging. Pages are an implementation detail (unless you are reading scrolls). The pinch/spread gesture could be used here to decrease and increase the text size, automatically reflowing the text (minding widows and orphans!). Pressing on illustrations would either overlay them similar to the cover in the Info view or open them on their own screen. If the illustration has a title and caption, a separate screen with a Go Back-type button would probably be preferable.

Book text content

The zipped Keynote ’08 file has links set up to give some idea as to the flow. Keynote’s animation tools have improved, but they are not yet to the point where I can comfortably create the transition animations that I have in mind for a book reader.

Yes, there would be a Cover Flow view when in landscape orientation. You can mock that up with your imagination. No, I do not have an iPhone. I hate phones, but I do like books.

How about an SDK, Apple?

Read These

I recommend the following books on design, though not necessarily in the order listed. Do not judge the relevance by the publication date.

Libraries Are Your Friends

The title of this post is not Buy These. Design books tend to be overpriced, so I only own a couple of those listed. Look in the programming or web section of the library. You’ll find them there along with “COBOL for Beginners” and “How to Make A Website with FrontPage!”.

The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design

Brenda Laurel, Editor

Articles by Laurel, Don Norman, Alan Kay, Ted Nelson, Ben Shneiderman, and others.

The Design of Everyday Things

Don Norman

Designing Visual Interfaces

Darrell Sano and Kevin Mullett

The OpenLook GUI used to illustrate the book may appear primitive by today’s eye-candied standards, but the concepts are still very relevant.

About Face (v1.0)

Alan Cooper

I haven’t read the 2.0 and 3.0 versions, but it sounds like they are basically expansions. It’s probably best to read the latest.

The Humane Interface

Jef Raskin

Designing Interfaces

Jenifer Tidwell

This book won’t do much to open your mind to new ways to solve design problems, but it is a good reference for working within currently common technical constraints.

Designing for Interaction

Dan Saffer

A good introduction to interaction design. The sections on service design (think Zipcar or Apple’s iSoftware/iGadget pairings) and ubiquitous computing were most interesting to me.

If you go to the men’s washrooms at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, you may notice there’s a fly in the urinals. So what do you think most men do? That’s right, they aim at the fly when they urinate. They don’t even think about it, and they don’t need to read a user’s manual; it’s just an instinctive reaction. The interesting feature of these urinals is that they’re deliberately designed to take advantage of this inherent human male tendency. The fly isn’t really a fly. It’s a drawing of a fly, permanently etched onto the porcelain. And the etching isn’t placed in just any old location on the urinal. On the contrary, it’s been strategically etched into the “sweet spot” of the urinal, the point of curvature that minimizes splash back.

Kim Vicente: The Human Factor (pages 85-86)

Someone give that designer a medal!

Dealing Lightning

Michael Hiltzik’s “Dealers of Lightning” is a look at the first decade or so of the legendary Xerox PARC, where many of the concepts and technologies of current computing were developed. Off the top of my head: Ethernet and the PUP protocol that was influential on TCP/IP, WYSIWYG text editing, multi-lingual interfaces, the desktop metaphor, object-oriented programming, the laser printer, and video graphics manipulation through use of a framebuffer.

Hiltzik points out the factors that influenced Xerox’s handling (and mishandling) of the numerous innovations that developed at PARC; corporate culture and bureacratic infighting, the weak U.S. economy of the mid to late 70s, strong competition in their core copier business, a bad reading of the computer industry, and being blindsided by IBM.

Xerox planned to sell their integrated 8010 Information System to corporate customers: workstations, file and print servers, and laser printers all networked via Ethernet. Xerox’s Star workstations provided a graphical user interface to word processing and e-mail, but a single workstation cost $16,595 (in 1981). The stand-alone IBM PC released four months later ran DOS, but cost under $5,000. I think you know how that battle ended.

Based on the book, Larry Tesler (left Apple, founded Stagecast, now at Amazon) and Charles Simonyi (left Microsoft, now at Intentional Software) were the earliest PARCers to recognize the importance of the hobbyist computer market populated by the Altair, PET, and the Apple 1 among others. Many at PARC looked down their noses (somewhat understandably, given how far ahead they were in so many areas) at the primitive computers, failing to appreciate the openness and low cost of the hobbyist architectures.

The original PARC staff included many brilliant engineers, but I got the impression that Alan Kay was the visionary, looking 20 years ahead while others thought about the next year or two. Geek note: Alan Kay’s wife Bonnie MacBird wrote the screenplay for Tron! She supposedly based one of the characters on Kay’s personality. I haven’t seen the movie in ages and I don’t know Alan Kay, so I won’t venture a guess as to which.

The book and this post take their title from an Alan Kay quote in Stewart Brand’s “Spacewar” Rolling Stone piece.

Diamond Aged

I finished Neal Stephenson‘s “The Diamond Age” a few days ago.

I liked that it didn’t have the self-conscious tongue-in-cheek humor that was evident throughout “Snow Crash“, but I still found it somehow unsatisfying. Perhaps I’ll just never be a huge fan of Stephenson’s writing. I do give him credit for making nanotechnology central to a story long before it was cool.

Next up on my reading list: “The Psychology of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman.

Gibson vs. Stephenson, contd.

Here I respond to an entry prompted by a comment I made on metacosm.

I never take differing opinions and/or thoughtful criticism as personal attacks. I welcome them! (Not personal attacks!)

I haven’t finished Snow Crash, meaning I have yet to read a single Stephenson book in its entirety. It is certainly not a good base for an opinion of a writer. Based on the 179 pages I’ve read so far, he is clearly talented, but I think Gibson’s vision is more interesting, probable (given when the Sprawl books were written), and believable. The believability factor is important to me, but I know that is not the case for everyone.

Neuromancer was the first cyberpunk book I read. I believe there was a brief discussion of Voodoo towards the end of it, while Case was in orbit with the Rastafarians. It certainly wasn’t central to the book, but it was there. I think.

Being the disorganized type, I then read Burning Chrome, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and Count Zero. I probably should have read them in order, but I’m generally a reader of opportunity – if it’s at the library, I’ll check it out, regardless of series ordering. I’ve also read Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties, and Pattern Recognition. There were also several good short stories in Mirrorshades. I didn’t like The Difference Engine all that much. Virtual Light has eluded me thus far.

What I liked about Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy was the gritty reality of the world it took place in. To me it seemed like a very possible potential future, particularly when the state of the world in the early 80’s is considered. The world of Snow Crash comes off as too much of a lampoon (delivered with a wink and a nudge) for me to see it the same way. The Mafia running a (global?) pizza chain? Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong? Judge Bob’s Judicial System?

Certainly, there are similarities between the worlds depicted in Neuromancer and Snow Crash – widespread use of designer drugs, corporate supremacy over governments, and pervasive computing & virtual reality being three of the things that pop into my mind, but Gibson incorporated these ideas into Neuromancer a good 8 years before Snow Crash.

I’m enjoying Snow Crash enough that I will pursue Stephenson’s more recent work, but I can’t place him on the same level as Gibson based on it. With subsequent reading, my opinion may change. I know there are many novels that influenced Neuromancer (some of which UBiK kindly included in his post), but aside from several of Philip K. Dick’s, I haven’t read them. As a musician, I know art is an evolutionary thing. Those who claim to be totally original are full of crap. Always.