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Towards new Interaction - A Content Centric Data Surface Approach



Research group:

Publication Type:

Licentiate Thesis


Mälardalen University Press


Point-and-click, multiple views in windows stacked over each other, and menu selection were breakthroughs in the 70s and what was achievable with the computational power then available. The desktop metaphor explains to users the structure of file, directories, and programs. The computer industry has developed enormously since then. Computational power, the flow and deposits of information have now increased to a point where new approaches to interaction have to be considered. This thesis presents a content-centric interface paradigm, which I call the data surface paradigm. The data surface paradigm contrasts with the desktop metaphor and elements of the desktop metaphor: windows, icons, menus, document files and application programs. The data surface paradigm is based on a reassessment of the fundamental design values of the desktop metaphor interface. It takes into account information navigation and retrieval, collaboration, and ongoing creative open-ended tasks and processes. As a design case I have studied computer music creativity throughout the thesis. Interviews and observations of novices and expert users of music creativity tools identified their needs and inspired prototype designs. I have used an iterative user-centred design process to build and evaluate a series of three prototypes. Content is visualised on a flat infinitely large twodimensional surface. Users navigate their content by zoom and pan, and incremental search. There are no windows. The unlimited area avoids the need to stack multiple views on top of each other. There are no icons. Content becomes its own icon when users zoom out, miniaturised in size but with preserved structure and metric relationships. There are no menus. Content affords typed commands and context help makes it easier for users to learn. Visual feedback and text completion of command substrings create a uniform model for command invocation and shortcuts. Users do not experience document files. The information content is visualised directly on the surface. Users have no need to deal with explicit file manipulation. The system manages the persistency of content. Users do not experience application programs. Small plug-in components provide services related to different information modality. Components are attached to the content, one component for each service and information modality. I have, on the basis of cognitive science, observations, interviews, and usability evaluations of prototypes, found strong indications sustaining my approach. The final prototype was evaluated with 10 subject users. The prototype supported the services expected by the users, their creativity in action, and awareness in collaboration. Their responses to the final prototype were: ”It feels free, it feels good for creativity, and it’s easy and fun.


author = {Rikard Lindell},
title = {Towards new Interaction - A Content Centric Data Surface Approach},
number = {39},
month = {December},
year = {2004},
publisher = {M{\"a}lardalen University Press},
url = {}