PARC UI group manager discusses Apple’s breakthrough iPhone user interface

“Designing a user interface for a mobile computer isn’t hard; all you have to do is think like a person,” Tom Krazit reports for CNET. “Sounds simple, but it’s taken a long time for that realization to set in, said Stu Card, manager of the user interface group at the famed Palo Alto Research Center. Card joined fellow researcher Ted Selker of MIT’s Media Lab at Sofcon 2008 to discuss human interfaces for mobile computers, and just how differently engineers have to treat these devices than their older PC brothers.”

“Card focused on the look and feel of the software that accompanies smart phones. He used Apple’s iPhone [and iPod touch] as his example, and examined how the iPhone was designed according to four different human factors: social, rational, cognitive, and biological. The different factors represent the amount of time one spends on a task or problem; you might take a second to page through a library of pictures, but spend months or years developing a network of friends,” Krazit reports.

“Mobile computing is much more intimately tied to a user’s life. You need to design simultaneously on at least four levels, and functional design is not the only requirement,” Card said,” Krazit reports.

“Apple made the breakthrough it did with the iPhone because it came up with ways of interacting with the device that make sense on biological and cognitive levels, Card said. Translated, that means the iPhone plays well to natural perceptual and motor skills, as well as our desire for immediacy,” Krazit reports.

“For example, the notion of finger gestures as the primary control is much more intuitive than navigating through a series of menus, and makes the device more intimate. And Apple’s groundbreaking decision to put the browser first and the keypad second makes browsing much easier and compelling than other mobile devices,” Krazit reports.

More in the full article here.


  1. If it’s not so hard, lets see you do it Mr. Krazit. The problem is too many designers think like engineers, if they can understand it why can’t everyone else. I even see doors with instructions (push, pull slide). If something needs an instructions manual, its a poor design, end of story.

  2. “The problem is too many designers think like engineers . . .”

    Or stupid politics interfere . . . drive-up automatic teller machines with Braille instructions comes to mind. Get enough cash to cover the horrific crash you’re about to cause.

  3. If only software engineers thought like real engineers there’d be a lot fewer manufacturing faults (aka bugs).

    Really it goes to show how misled the human race has become when pointing out the obvious appears so informative.

  4. …to prevent the urban cyclist’s nightmare: getting doored. If a sensor on the bike could detect some basic information, such as whether someone is sitting in the driver’s seat and the car is off. That’s the most likely scenario for someone to start opening their door, and could send some sort of “SOS” alert to the user.

    Unless they’re using infrared, I can’t imagine sensors/processors being faster or more accurate than our own eyes/brains at detecting if someone’s about to open a car door as you’re cycling up on them. I’d love an early warning system, but that’s a specific danger that’s hard to beat using artificial measures.

    Aim high, I guess.

  5. “The problem is too many designers think like engineers . . .”

    Or stupid politics interfere . . .

    Or worse: stupid BUSINESS politics interferes.

    You know, the “We can’t invest in (whatever) because it costs too much. Just make something that works. We need it in (some laughably short time)”.

    Better yet, there’s the slimebag ladder climber, who pitches his worthless product to a clueless CEO, and gets the OK anyway “because we’ll sell a ton of them”. Then when it bombs, he spins it into a promotion.

    Apple’s engineers get to bear the accountability (and terror) of answering to a CEO who gets it. If you’re gonna propose an idea for release consideration, it had better be good. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

  6. I don’t think the iPhone is amazing at all. What’s amazing is all the other phones. I’ve been amazed by them since they first came out, and even more amazed as each new one came out. The iPhone is the first one that has not amazed me.

  7. I’ve had my Samsung slider for two years and I still can’t figure out how to do 3-way calling without hanging up on someone. And I’m a graphic designer who is fluent with expensive and complicated software on two different platforms.

  8. @Digits McGee
    “…to prevent the urban cyclist’s nightmare: getting doored.”
    I laughed out loud at this passage – Typical engineering response to a non-problem.
    Silly me, I don’t have a bicycle rigged with sensors.
    I just ride my bike at least a metre out from parked cars.

  9. I’ve had my iphone for about three days now and already, I’m hooked! Also, I’ve pretty much got it mastered, and I’ve never even opened the instruction book. I had my previous phone (Motorola Nextel i860) for about two years, and there are features that I never quite figured out even after reading the instructions!

    *This message brought to you by my new iPhone. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

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