The Magic Lens Interface

Eric Bier, Ken Fishkin, Maureen Stone, Xerox Parc,,

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University December 9, 1994


Traditional workstation user interface design separates the tools from the work by clustering the tools (typically encoded as menus) around the application work area. To perform an operation, the user must select a tool and its point of application separately. If the optimal use of the tool requires an alternate view of the application, selecting the view must be performed as an additional step. The Magic Lens(TM) Interface places tools on movable, transparent sheets that overlay the work area. The user positions these sheets over the application and operates through the tools on the objects beneath. These tools can also contain visual filters called "magic lenses" that modify the view of objects seen through them. By positioning the tools over the work, we can combine the selection of the view, the tool and its point of application into one operation.

The Magic Lens Interface is an exciting new design space for tools that can be applied both within and across applications. It can be constructed to make good use of two hands, where one hand moves the sheet to position tools and the other operates through the tools. Tools can be composed by overlapping, providing a graphical way to construct complex tools out of simple ones. The interface can be scaled for displays of all sizes, from palmtops to wall sized displays. This talk will describe the Magic Lens Interface and demonstrate its application in a variety of areas.


Eric Bier received a PhD in computer graphics from UC Berkeley in 1988 and has worked at PARC full time since. His research includes new techniques for interactive computer graphics, user interface layout, active documents, multi-user editors, and two-handed user interfaces. These techniques and systems include: the Gargoyle and Gargoyle3d graphical editors, skitters and jacks for 3D editing, snap-dragging, graphical search and replace, EmbeddedButtons active documents, the Multi-Device Multi-User Multi-Editor (MMM), and the Magic Lens Interface. Eric now manages a small group called Graphics and Interaction Research in the Information Sciences and Technologies Lab at PARC.

Maureen Stone began her career at Xerox in 1978 working on the Griffin graphical illustration system. This work inspired her to spend the next 16 years at Xerox PARC doing research in interactive graphics, spline algorithms, device independent color reproduction and user interaction techniques. From 1989 to 1994 she managed a research group focused on digital color and computer graphics. She is currently a Principal Scientist in the Graphics and Interaction Research Area in the Information Sciences and Technologies Laboratory. She received her BS and MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, and a MS in Computer Science from Caltech.

Ken Fishkin is a member of the Graphics and Interaction Research group at Xerox PARC. Since receiving a MS in Computer Graphics from UC Berkeley in 1983, he has held a variety of jobs in industry, focusing on 2D graphics, user interfaces, and color. Ken has been at PARC since 1991, where his work has focused on color science, image manipulation, and the Magic Lens user interface paradigm.


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