Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Dissing the “Desktop Metaphor”:

I think we’d all be better off if we stopped taking the “Desktop Metaphor” for granted.

Virtually all GUI computers display a “desktop” of choices, and when you hunt for your icons and windows, you're expected to think of them as lying on your desk. Who has ever justified this metaphor? In real life, desktops tend to be a mess. Computer desktops emulate that mess. In 1978, one Jerry Beckman suggested that your main computer screen should look like an office. You would furnish this office with a desk, table, cabinets (with labeled drawers), a closet, whatever suited you; and then you would file data and applications in sensible places. This metaphor would probably make it a lot easier to remember where you put things on your computer. You could go further and design a “home” with separate rooms for each different activity you bring to your computer.

Can't a few experiemntal psychologists find a more natural and productive metaphor for software to embrace? Probably they've done that already, and we computer desginers just won't listen. (See my post yesterday for a similar idea applied to documents.)

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