Technicians are always concerned about designing controls that work — and rightly so. The success of their installation depends on the user being able to operate the system (e.g., stereo, slide show, videoconference) readily and properly.
And yet, what do we usually end up with? Remotes crammed full of tiny buttons and keypads lined with unrecognizable icons. Who other than a teenager could get these clunky controls to work well and easily?
Well, help is on the way. At least the audio/video profession is willing to admit there is a problem: Step One. A group called the End Users Council of the International Communications Industries Association (ICIA) is working on what it calls a “Dashboard for Controls” aimed at codifying a graphic design template for the touchscreen.
“Industry consensus on some basics of user interface design…will increase end user confidence that the most frequently used functions will ‘look and feel’ like others they have previously used,” argues Randal A. Lemke, executive director of ICIA with more than 3,000 members worldwide.
Meanwhile, the association also has taken a first step in recognizing what has become something of a “cottage industry” within the A/V community: independent programming firms. Crestron Electronics, which makes controls, has a training program that has certified more than fifty companies and individuals over the past two years as Crestron Authorized Independent Programmers (CAIP).
“Interface design has become a speciality that adds value to any installation in terms of blending technology with the aesthetics of an architect’s designs and concepts,” says Crestron’s Jason Frenchman, “while saving time and effort for the installer and helping to simplify and maximize the functionality of touchpanels for the end user, and making choosing applications seamless — and even enjoyable.”
This is an admirable objective. Both collective and proprietary activities are to be applauded, together with the efforts of independent researchers like Paul Chavez and David Theis (see page 12), who have chosen to explore, more broadly, interface design as interaction design, or “how people deal with technology — and how people deal with each other, through technology,” in the words of Malcolm McCullough (Digital Ground, 2004 MIT Press).
While the aim of standardization is worthwhile, it is important to recognize, as Lemke does, that “guideline graphics do not inhibit uniqueness of application and style of the implementers.” That is not simply to promote their acceptance, but, for architecture scholars like McCullough, to insure that “context” and “place” prevail in the design of computer-based devices.
Design is not an applied, artistic frill intended to make something “pretty” or even “usable,” McCullough argues. Rather, “the essence of design is practical synthesis.” It surpasses “beautification” or mechanics
to seek “a middle way between a universal uniformity, which has been typical of high technology, and a local desire for completely belonging to one place, which has typically been anti-technology.”
To the extent that interface design involves a practical, yet creative, interactive solution, it surely is familiar territory for architects.