“Don’t make me think” – science fiction, ubiquitous computing and human interfaces

OK, you’re going to need roughly an hour, so bookmark this post and come back later if you don’t have the time right now. But I promise that sixty minutes of invested time will be of huge benefit to you, whatever sort of creative work you do. SRSLY.

First of all, you should read this New York Times article about Jan Chipchase (and consider subscribing to his Future Perfect blog while you’re at it). Here in what we used to call the First World we often talk about “revolutionary technologies”, but from our position of privilege we misunderstand the term completely; Chipchase is out there in the dust and monsoons of developing nations discovering how mobile phones really are revolutionising people’s lives in small but tangible ways, and trying to discover how to make them do so more effectively.

“This sort of on-the-ground intelligence-gathering is central to what’s known as human-centered design, a business-world niche that has become especially important to ultracompetitive high-tech companies trying to figure out how to write software, design laptops or build cellphones that people find useful and unintimidating and will thus spend money on.”

It’s a fascinating piece, and I seriously suggest you read it – especially if you’re a fiction writer. It’s about a lot more than just market research, and there are the seeds of a thousand stories in there.

But that’s just your appetiser. The main course is the following video of Bruce Sterling giving the closing talk at an interface design conference in Germany last year. [via BoingBoing]

Even allowing for my fanboy filter amplifying the impact, I think this forty minutes of thinking will blow the top of your head clean off. If you can watch it as a writer of science fiction (or an artist, web developer, or pretty much anything else) and then email me afterwards and tell me honestly that there was nothing there you needed to know, I will give away all my worldly possessions and take up an itinerant lifestyle as your devoted disciple, spending my days sat in the dust by your feet hanging on your every word.

Basically, bad science fiction makes the same mistake made by bad design – it fails to take into account what people actually want. And people want to not have to think.

Watch … and take notes. You’re going to need them.

5 thoughts on ““Don’t make me think” – science fiction, ubiquitous computing and human interfaces”

  1. Hmm . . . yes, definitely, an eye-opening discussion. The general idea of “reducing cognitive load” as a design and organizational principle cannot be repeated enough. In fact, it should be taped in front of every designers’ monitor: Your Goal Today is to Reduce Cognitive Load. Bruce took all the reasons I’ve been harping on “simplicity” lately and tied them up in a nice package.

    I think he’s being a little dismissive of AR and spex, though–I think the power to make the metadata visible will give us such an edge in business and life that such systems will become ubiquitous. Until someone develops a better one. But hey, that’s my opinion.

  2. Quite possibly, man – Sterling’s shirts are legendary. One day I will meet him, and hence discover where he gets them from …

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