tools for humans

So I’m researching interface standards, and I’m reading AskTog: First Principles and in the middle of the usual […]

So I’m researching interface standards, and I’m reading AskTog: First Principles and in the middle of the usual “consistency good” and “Fitt’s Law” was this gem of a concept…

Human Interface Objects

Human-interface objects are not necessarily the same as objects found in object-oriented systems. Our objects include folders, documents, and the trashcan. They appear within the user’s environment and may or may not map directly to an object-oriented object. In fact, many early gui’s were built entirely in non-object-oriented environments.
Human-interface objects can be seen, heard, touched, or otherwise perceived.
Human interface objects that can be seen are quite familiar in graphic user interfaces. Objects that play to another sense such as hearing or touch are less familiar. Good work has been done in developing auditory icons (Gaver).
Human-interface objects have a standard way of interacting.
Human-interface objects have standard resulting behaviors.
Human-interface objects should be understandable, self-consistent, and stable.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of universal icons (which of course, aren’t really universal, but that’s my current codename for the idea) such as the magnifying glass for zoom, or an envelope for email. The few icons that actually don’t need labels.

What are some examples of human-interface objects? (Beyond Tog’s trash can, file folder, etc)


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  1. 1

    If you like that, you’d enjoy his book Tog on Interface. The actual examples (the Mac interface) are dated, but the process for getting there is brilliant. And he’s funny as hell.

    He was also citing early examples of many of the issues we debate today, like our Briggs-Meyers types and user personas.

    btw, I’m totally diggin’ the the “remember me” function and the html taggin’ thingies here in the comments area.

  2. 2

    you know, I started to read it, and he was kinda all over the place — though as you point out, funny and a good writer– so I put it aside for later. Maybe it’s time to pick it up again….

    and glad to hear you are enjoying the new widgets!

  3. 3

    Much of Tog on Interface is a collection of articles from the Apple Developer newsletter. There’s no real sequence or narrative to it, but each article by itself has nuggets of value. They’re best digested in small bites.

    Also, my new favorite word is BIUurl.


  4. 4

    When I used to work for Lucent, at one point I was doing some work with a bunch of usability specialists out in Columbus. They had a term that they repeated like a mantra, “OOGITU”. Silly name, but it was an acronym for “Objects Of Greatest Interest To Users”. And they kept this in mind as they were developing web interfaces for complex products like telephone switches. (I was going to say they chanted it, but I wasn’t out in Columbus, so I have no idea; maybe they danced around a fire or something). My take on the concept was that you define the things the user is going to be most interested in in a given situation (when they’re on a certain page, for example), and you make sure they can find them. I’m probably missing the great subtleties of their concept, but I didn’t work with them for very long.

    So, for example, in a “weblication” (they liked silly words) for monitoring a telephone switch, one of the OOGITUs would be an alarm for if something went wrong with a particular part of the switch. It would be green if everything was okay, and red if it wasn’t. This would be placed in a place where it couldn’t be missed, presumably in the middle of 20 or 30 other alarms also of great interest to users. 🙂

    I’m afraid I don’t remember anything more specific than that from my brief time working with them, but it was an interesting experience.

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