Leonardo's Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing

Ben Shneiderman, University of Maryland College Park.

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University October 20, 2000

The old computing was about what computers could do; the new computing is about what users can do. Attention is shifting from making computers intelligent to making users creative. Human-computer interaction research and usability engineering are emerging in scientific and technology communities, but they have been criticized as being merely evaluative rather than generative. I will take Leonardo da Vinci as an inspirational muse because he combined scientific exploration with practical application and esthetic sensitivities.

The first lesson is to think more deeply about the full range of users' needs. This talk lays out five circles of human relationships and four stages of social activities. These form a basis for user interface innovation that covers mobility, ubiquity, and community. Information resources will sprout from InfoDoors and WebBushes. Buddy lists and million-person communities will be accessible through palmtop and fingertip devices.

The second lesson of the new computing is universal usability.
Leonardo's sympathy for the underprivileged would make him a crusader for crossing the digital divide. Successful systems will be customized for diverse users, tailorable to a wide range of hardware, software, and networks, and designed to bridge the gap between what users know and what they need to know.

The third lesson, which will occupy researchers for the next century, is the need for creativity support tools. Clever programmers are already developing advanced strategies that help users to design buildings, manage knowledge, compose music, and conduct scientific research. But the best is yet to come.

Ben Shneiderman is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science, Founding Director (1983-2000) of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, and Member of the Institutes for Advanced Computer Studies & for Systems Research, all at the University of Maryland at College Park. He was elected as a Fellow of the Association for Computing (ACM) in 1997.

Ben is the author of "Software Psychology: Human Factors in Computer and Information Systems" (1980) and "Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction" (3rd ed. 1998). He pioneered the highlighted textual link in 1983, and it became part of Hyperties, a precursor to the web. His move into information visualization spawned the successful company Spotfire, where he is a board member. He is an advisor for smartmoney.com where his treemap visualization is used for stock market data. With S. Card and J. Mackinlay, he co-authored "Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think" (1999).

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