A case for keeping input and display separated

6:20:00 PM

As interfaces become more "immersive," engaging our bodies as we work with our screens, let's keep in mind human error and their fallibility when designing our interfaces

To be sure, the capacitive touch screen has done wonders for improving not only the quality of the computing experience, but also the intimacy between man and machine. But, in these days when our interfaces are quickly replacing keystrokes with gestures, man has yet to out-think random chance and some problems involved in joining input and display on devices.

Case in point: today, I drafted a proposal for implementing social media tools for a university club's Web site twice. Both were deleted. In the process of drafting, good practices of frequent saving of the document were implemented, and yet, hours of work have been washed away two times.

I was working on an iPad. The document took shape as an e-mail in the gadget's pre-installed mail app since that's how the document was to be delivered. In the first attempt to save my work, I e-mailed the draft to myself that was at near completion.

For unknown reasons my e-mail client (gmail) received the e-mail with an error that the text was unreadable. Attempts to recover the draft via the "sent" folder said that the message was gone, and while a prior draft was still available, it was far from complete.

Angry, I started over - this time in a Web browser. After each paragraph, the "Save draft" button was pressed, even while I knew the browser would periodically auto-save it for me. Unfortunately, while penning in the closing statements into the e-mail on the on-screen keyboard, my thumb glazed the "Discard draft" button, and gone.

Since getting an iPad - my first experience with using a screen-based keyboard - thoughtful responses on Facebook, 500 character inputs into Web forms, emails, comments to news articles and so on have been wiped away not by intention but by merely by regripping the machine.

I've gotten into the habit of periodically "selecting all" and copying text to the clipboard every couple of sentences. It's saved me my time and my ass a few times. But the clipboard can only do so much - one save at a time. On Web forms with multiple fields like an application process for joining a group on Meetup.com a gesture refreshed the Web page, and I said to mysel, "Ahh, I'd rather not join it anyway." Lord knows what kind of adventures and close relationships that might have formed are now lost because it's just too heartbreaking to try to remember all the love that went into the application process.

Interfaces are getting more sophisticated, and before the decade is out our computing experience will resemble immersive environments similar to that of the movie Minority Report;. Before that happens, it would seem that app and Web designers aughtta remember find a way for one of the first principles of computing to remain sacred - press save, press save, and keep pressing; and as interfaces get more intimate, at least for now on the iPad, for Godsake, put a toggle feature to give users the ability to make the screen inactive while the keyboard is open!

God forbid that there come a time when we're using our whole body to interface with computers and designers don't pre-think that the Tom Cruise character might have an itch in his toe and by scratching it, he ends up accusing the wrong person for crimes he has yet to commit.

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