Buxton at ISWC: it’s the transitions, stupid!

[I’ve been trip-blogging this past week but haven’t had convenient net access, so I’m afraid the real-time aspects of blogging are lacking… now that I’m hooked into the wireless at DEAF04 here’s some of my backlog.]

Bill Buxton’s ISWC keynote made a lot of points, but the one that struck me most was derived from three basic laws:

  1. Moore’s Law: the number of transistors that can fit in a given area will double approximately every 18 months.
  2. God’s Law (aka the complexity barrier): the number of brain cells we have to work with remains constant.
  3. Buxton’s Law: technology designers will continue to promise functionality proportional to Moore’s Law.

The problem then is how to deliver more functionality without making the interface so unwieldy as to be completely unusable. Buxton went on to talk about the trade-off between generality and ease-of-use: the more specifically-designed an interface the easier it is to use but the more limited its scope.

The key, he argues, is to make lots of specific applications with interfaces well-suited for their particular niche. Then you don’t need a single general interface, but instead can concentrate on the seamlessness and transparency of transitions between interfaces.

It’s a nice way of thinking about things, especially when thinking about the combination of wearables and ubicomp (see next post).