De los Reyes is the principal design director at Microsoft in Redmond and he is describing the reaction of these two disparate generations working with apps on the Natural User Interface (NUI), a departure from the graphical user interface.
“People approach these technologies with a totally different mental model,” says de los Reyes. The apps, which were on a table top computer, can be navigated without using a keyboard or mouse.
For de los Reyes, these two examples provide a glimpse of what will be the next phase of user experience in technology. In the future, he sees more use of voice and gestures to control the apps.
The choice of a table top as a form factor in both cases is deliberate. “The table is a place for transaction, whether social or physical,” says de los Reyes, who spoke on the ascent of NUI at the Microsoft TechEd in Auckland.
De los Reyes and his team are involved in research and design that aims to make technology provide meaningful experiences to users’ everyday lives.
He calls his work “informed fortune telling", or "informed anticipation about how people will behave and feel when they interact” with technology.
For instance, he and his siblings buy their mother a new PC every three years. But when he asked her why she does not use the PC beyond solitaire and email, she told him about the “intimidation factor” that she and other people of her generation experience with technology.
This feeling was not present when she used the table top computer. “She didn’t even think of this as a computer," he says. "The whole notion of that intimidation factor didn’t even enter her mind.”
De los Reyes is an adjunct professor in the design faculty at the University of Washington, and had majored in literature and design at Bennington College.
As an undergraduate, he found it interesting to find links between his two areas of study. “I found similarities between the problems we are solving because it is all about structuring information.”
He worked as an intern with the Atlantic Monthly magazine. But it was a project in his senior year that led to a career in ICT. He was one of six students who were invited by Apple to present their projects at the Macworld Expo. After the Expo, all of the students got jobs in different start-up companies. “I abandoned magazine publishing and I have been in technology [ever since], “says De los Reyes.
Five years ago , he enrolled at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. “Harvard changed the way I thought about design, computing and life,” he says.
He shares some of these insights during his presentation at the TechEd, where he points out the three main guiding principles around NUI.
The first is semantics, which is about the rejection of the idea of dualisms. An example is the dialectic between the designer and developer. Designers have to deal with code more and more, and developers deal with design issues, he says. The same can be seen with the rise in popular media of werewolves and vampires. These creatures, he says, “are like the embodiments of two entities that persist in the same person”.
The second is syntactic. This refers to the “ultimate compression algorithms” within people that can be applied to developing more intuitive software.
The third is pragmatics, the shift to a horizontal mind frame in contrast to a vertical or hierarchical approach to thinking. For this, he uses the term “arborescence” and shows a picture of a tree with widespread roots and branches.
Pragmatics, he says, is about “intellectual elegance”. When combined with the other principles for NUI, he sees the future of digital media and computing as leading into "the poetic age of technology”.
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