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HCI and Metaphors

Most modern user interfaces are based on several unmistakable metaphors. 'In our desk, we store data we need in folders.' 'When I need to get something unwanted on my desk, I put it in the trash bin.' Most of these are obvious metaphors, and very intuitive. However, I believe the computer user interface has evolved beyond a desktop.

Desktops are very primitive now. Desktops were very simple when these core philosophies were constructed. Desktops have become workspaces. So what's a workspace? A workspace is an area with shelves, tables, draws and equipment essential for your work. You can actually have multiple workspaces too. In today's world, telecommuting is very popular, and is another workspace we can consider in our new UI paradigm.

So how do we associate these new workspaces to metaphors and what is the advantage to a workspace over a desktop? Shelves are very important. They store data that we use mostly for references, but they're still accessible. Our draws keep our most important frequently read information. Each draw contains folders to help us organize our information, but draws can be locked to protect this information. With a folder you can't lock it. Locking a folder isn't even intuitive! Since we have multiple workspaces we need visibly different workspaces, and they need to be accessible. Workspaces don't need to be visibly different in an aesthetic way; they need to offer new metaphors to relate to our new workspace. For instance, when you telecommute, you need a straightforward way to communicate with peers instantly. We need a 'Mirror' as our abstraction for our telecommuting workspace. A mirror will serve as our visual representation of a separate workspace remotely or locally.

Along with creating new abstractions for the modern workspace, new user interfaces need to be designed and created. Windows are something that need to replaced with a more intuitive representation. For instance, we use dialog boxes to communicate to our application, which is represented in a window. Perhaps window is used relatively, however a dialog is not since it creates a bridge of communication between the software and the user. Rather have an abstraction that closes and opens, why not create something more intuitive. Lets replace windows with brokers. I use the word broker because a broker can be thought of in the sense mediator or source of information. We communicate to our broker, and receive a response. Windows do close, but conversations don't just stop, nor do they begin if not initiated (dialogs). Brokers cannot be closed conventionally like windows; they are closed when a dialog is terminated.

It's very difficult to address how present user interfaces should changes. Some abstractions in user interfaces are intuitive while others are not. Interfaces lack radical designs nowadays. I think a new user interface paradigm can be conceived, however it will take a lot of effort and research into how we communicate with our natural peers and how we can reflect those qualities into our software.


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