Magic Cap Human Interface: Adventures in Design

Kevin Lynch, General Magic

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University
March 8, 1996


Our goal in designing Magic Cap was to create a personal communicator that people would welcome into their lives, rather than be a source of stress. In order to achieve this, we worked to come up with designs that people could not only use successfully but also enjoy doing so.

This mission resulted in a several year design adventure, including living through our first rather interesting usability tests, struggling with touchscreens, coming up with solutions, relentlessly iterating, and gradually zeroing in on a successful design.

This fast-paced presentation will use video clips from usability tests as well as early design sketches to review some of these adventures.

At the conclusion, the speaker will accept challenges to remember why any aspect of Magic Cap is the way it is and will either tell the story behind it or be forced to make up something convincing.


Kevin Lynch has been designing human interfaces for over a decade and is currently Director of the Magic Cap development team at General Magic. He pioneered the development of Magic Cap's navigation metaphor and has been responsible for unleashing several features in Magic Cap including Sniffy the searching dog. The Magic Cap human interface can be seen in the Sony Magic Link and Motorola Envoy personal communicators.

Kevin studied computer graphics at the University of Illinois at Chicago , where he focused on interactive graphics, working with artists and engineers in the Electronic Visualization Laboratory . While in school, Kevin helped start Challenger Software to create Macintosh applications in 1984, including Legacy, a graphic adventure game, and Mac 3D, a three-dimensional modeling package. He served as the company's Vice President of Product Development.

Kevin later joined Frame Technology , where he designed the human interface for the first Macintosh version of FrameMaker in 1989, then managed Frame's Core Technology Group, directing the creation of FrameMaker 4. Kevin came to General Magic in 1992 and has helped lead the design of the Magic Cap human interface, doing his best to create interfaces that succeed at being both functional and enjoyable.


Titles and abstracts for all years are available by year and by speaker.

For more information about HCI at Stanford see

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