The Missing Detail of of New Human Machine Interfaces

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Multi-Touch UI By now just about everybody is ooh-ing and aww-ing over this demonstration video showing multiple users on a single touch and pressure sensitive graphical user interface.

And rightfully so. This thing is amazing! Who wouldn’t want to be able to organize their photos in the manner they do in the demo? They’ve created a particularly intuitive means for navigating photos, maps, floating lava lamp blobs that is a huge step forward in usability.

Is it Ergonomic?

But there was one small issue that popped in the back of my mind. One other detail that would need to be addressed by such an interface. Is it ergonomic?

For software developers, who typically sit at a computer 8 or more hours a day, the ergonomics of a system are extremely important. Ideally monitors are placed so that the top is a couple of inches above eye level. Your head actually has a significant amount of mass (even more if you have a forehead like mine) so it should remain for the most part balanced on your neck to prevent strain.

What would eight hours a day looking down at a tilted screen do to a person’s body? Either we would develop very strong neck and shoulder muscles like our governator, or we would suffer from shoulder and neck pains along with headaches.

I am not sure what the solution is, but I hope they address it because I definitely would want such a device. Perhaps one option is a dual screen approach where a user could alternate by looking at a non-tactile screen at eye level that mirrors what the user is doing on the touch screen, allowing the user to alternate between screens. Having the touch screen at eye level would only introduce upper arm and shoulder pain. Ever try holding your arms straight in front of you for hours at a time? It is painful. Whatever the solution, I bet they will come up with something better than anything I have proposed.

The Lesson

The lesson here is that great design is hard and there is no perfect design. When trying to design anything, such as a new UI, a compensation plan, etc… You have to consider and try to anticipate unintended consequences.

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4 responses

  1. Avatar for jayson knight
    jayson knight February 13th, 2006

    The site you linked to appears to have pulled the video (as of the time of this comment), found a mirror here: (flash required, and you can't download it :-(

    That's definitely some cool stuff though...I especially liked the music related part (as if DJ's jobs needed to get any easier).

    A solution I thought of is perhaps having a touch sensitive pad at keyboard level that relays commands to the screen, which would be at eye level (increases cost, but addresses the ergo factors you spoke of).

    Another ergo tip if anyone is interested (CRT monitors only): Place your monitor as Haacked said, slightly above eye level. Tilt it down slightly to all but eliminate glare...the glare won't be bouncing direcly back to your eyes and will reduce eye strain. Of course most LCD's don't have a glass screen, so this doesn't apply to them.

  2. Avatar for Robb Allen (Sharp as a Marble)
    Robb Allen (Sharp as a Marble) February 13th, 2006

    My uber-keyboard ( works on the same principle. It uses arrays of capacitors that change capacitance when there are objects near by, such as fingers. I can do many different gestures with multiple fingers.

    For example, on my right hand, if I were to pinch together my thumb and forefinger, it will "cut". If I place my finger and thumb together and spread them apart, it will paste.

    I can make any combination of any fingers and in any direction and assign them whatever set of keystrokes I want. I use it extensively in Visual Studio (I have gestures for build, start debugging, opening and closing certain windows, etc).

    This system looked really cool, but it was pressure sensitive which to me would be a problem. My keyboard doesn't rely on pressure, only proximity. However, it can simulate pressure by assuming your finger will flatten out as you press harder, therefor covering more area.

    I'd like to see a system closer to what you saw in Minority Report where a camera would watch your fingers (gloves with LED's would be fine) and you could simply move them in space. It would give you a true 3D control over your screen.

    Too bad I've got great ideas and no way of ever seeing them come to fruition ;)

  3. Avatar for Steve Harman
    Steve Harman February 14th, 2006

    Robb... Looks like FingerWorks went out of business. So way to get us all excited about something we can't even have! :)

  4. Avatar for Robb Allen (Sharp as a Marble)
    Robb Allen (Sharp as a Marble) February 14th, 2006

    Tell <b>ME</b> about it. My keyboard goes on the fritz every here and there. No way to get it repaired now.

    Luckily I know the basic way to repair it, so hopefully it will stick around for a few more years until whoever bought their technology comes out with the new product line. At least, I'm hoping someone bought them. This thing rocks.