Live from nextMEDIA 2008: Insights Into the Field of Human-Computer Interaction

The first speaker of the day was Bill Buxton, principal researcher at Microsoft. He has worked on a variety of projects throughout his 30-year career, including Microsoft Surface. This is his personal mantra:

Ultimately, we are deluding ourselves if we think that the products that we design are the "things" that we sell, rather than the individual, social and cultural experience that they engender, and the value and impact that they have. Design that ignores this is not worthy of the name.

Notes from the first part of the session:

  • Even the oldest form of filmmaking was a technological in nature, such as matte paintings.
  • The reason that George Lucas uses technology so effectively is that he is very efficient and hates to waste resources.
  • In modern filmmaking, we’ve largely moved creativity from the physical set to post-production.
  • Bill thinks modern technical techniques could be codified, but they aren’t, which suggests a lack of vision.
  • "It’s way easier to photograph the world than it is to model it."
  • Bill says that everything that is happening in film and video now, already happened in music ten years ago. Not because of differences in creativity, but because video is so much more computationally intensive.
  • "It’s what you don’t see that makes the effect special."

Bill spent quite a bit of time demonstrating that you don’t need millions of dollars to make great videos. As an example, he used a $300 digital still camera and created a panorama that he then panned around in using software. Very cool stuff. Of course not everyone has the creative eye or passion, but what Bill is saying is that the technical barriers are disappearing.

And some notes from part two:

  • Video games are a bit of a spectator sport. They moved out of the twelve year old’s bedroom and into the living room, to take advantage of the large screens and speakers. Family members watched each other play. That’s why we now have the Nintendo Wii.
  • Assume that screens are going to cost a maximum of $10 per square foot within four years. Think about what that means.
  • Bill says that the amount of time from invention to mainstream is 20 years.
  • In the display world, there are interesting things happening: very large and very small, very thin, very inexpensive. Think about flexible, color, reflective displays.
  • Look for mini projectors in cell phones within about two years.
  • "You’ve got to figure out how to use the medium effectively."
  • Why can’t every display also be an input device? Bill says it’s because the technology world doesn’t get it. They think they’re simply making television sets.

Bill finished with a video of Microsoft Surface, and explained that the key thing is physical objects. There’s no need for an icon of a phone, your phone is the icon.

In Bill’s estimation, Canadians have driven a lot of the innovation he shared today. For example, the first multi-touch stuff was done in Toronto in 1983. The capacity to be better than world class is here. We just need to get our act together as a community.

For more on Bill, check out