Interface Paradox

Jef Raskin

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University October 14, 1994


In 1979 I proposed a commercial computer project that would be based on an improved user interface, rather than having its genesis in the latest processor or operating system. I called it "Macintosh." At the time, being a specialist in interface design was to be in professional limbo, unless you were lucky enough to be at Xerox PARC or a handful of other places. Now HCI is a widely recognized discipline, with thousands of us flocking together annually, it has spawned formal curricula for higher education, and we have over a dozen periodicals in which to immortalize our thoughts.

The paradox is this: in spite of all this churning, interfaces have not gotten better. The best that can be said is that we now tackle much more difficult tasks with only slightly greater levels of frustration and annoyance than we did a decade ago. But credit here is better assigned to application development than to interface improvement.

I will argue that most of what practitioners in the HCI field do is more akin to interior decorating than to architecture, and I ask (and try to partially answer) what the HCI analog of structural engineering might be.

Click here for the text of an article on "Intuitive=Familiar"

Click here for a followup list of references


Jef Raskin is an independent consultant on interface design, best known for having created the Macintosh computer project at Apple, the one button mouse and the click-and-drag paradigm for using it, the "Apple Style" of manuals, the Canon Cat, and other interface-based products. He was CEO of Information Appliance Inc. Prior to joining Apple he was a professor and computer center director at the University of California at San Diego. He has also taught at the University of Kansas, Notre Dame, and Penn State and was a visiting scholar at Stanford.

Raskin holds many patents and is a prolific writer, with articles appearing in dozens of journals and magazines, including Interactions, the Communications of the ACM, Byte, Nature, Quantum, IEEE Spectrum, Computer, Wired, the SIGCHI Bulletin, American Scientist, California Business, and others. Raskin has been a keynote speaker, speaker, or session chair at a number of conferences.


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