Tools for intuitive skill - Supporting skills of the hand and eye

Kathleen Carter Rank, Xerox Cambridge, EuroPARC

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University October 13, 1991


A graphic designer is working at the drawing board. She rearranges her papers on the board to take another look at her previous drawings, reaches for that special soft pencil in the jar with her other pens and pencils and then swiftly sketches a new idea. She stands back to view her work. Compared with this, computer workstations provide a physically impoverished environment. There is usually only a single screen for viewing and a mouse as the one tool. The range of physical movements and manipulations available is much more constrained than at a drawing board. But does this matter? My claim is that physically embodied skills underlie the intuitive ways of working that are so important to many designers. If we design computer systems to support designers which do not take this into account then we are more likely to disrupt rather than enhance the design process. In this talk I will explore some of the various ways in which the relationship between human and machine have been characterised in computer system design and show where the important unanswered questions lie. These questions have implications for both the way we approach system design and the kinds of technology we develop. At EuroPARC we have explored these issues in projects that have made use of participative design techniques and in the development of technologies that bridge the gap between the physical and computational in new ways. We are now hoping to bring these strands together in a new project to design tools to support sketching in a variety of design settings.


Kathleen Carter is a computer scientist with a particular interest in building interactive systems to support graphical skills. This interest has taken her through explorations of tailorable systems, participative design techniques and observational work in various design practices.


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