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When Information Navigation Divorces File Systems - Database Surface Prototype Results



Research group:

Publication Type:

Conference/Workshop Paper


The Good, the Bad, and the Irrelevant: The user and future of information and communication technologies


COST Action 269


All PCs have file systems. The design of this most vital part of personal computers has had the consequence that the design of user interfaces, for better or for worse, hasbecome wed to the file system. The file system can be traced in interfaces from today's graphical user interfaces, for which the desktop metaphor helps explain to users how totreat their documents and folders, to yesterday's command line user hostile DOS (Disk Operating System) interfaces. What if one was to exchange the spine of computer system from a file system to adatabase? Imagine the unstructured stream of ones and zeros you normally put in a location on a hard drive instead be put in a content aware database. Monolithicapplications are divided into components that are put in the database. All the different content files are turned into objects that are put into the database and so forth. Thisintroduces a number of questions that include how to handle: information access; information visualisation; user collaboration; multi modal interface usability; programarchitecture; scalability over different platforms; to name a few. This paper presents a design rationale for how to visualise the content of the database. Ihave chosen a comprehensive approach to the zoom interface paradigm. All content is presented on a flat and infinitely large two-dimensional database surface. There are nowindows. The information has only the state: open; there is no closed state for which an application opens the content in a file. Users zoom in and out on the information as themain navigation technique. The application area first to be investigated was music creativity. I have interviewedmusicians, both young female novices and male experts in their 30s. Both groups agreed as to what the problems with current tools are. With the interviews as inspiration I formedthe design rationale and constructed a prototype accordingly. Eventually this prototype was evaluated with user studies based on the collaborative evaluation method. The usersfelt mentally head over heels at first, but thought this dramatically different approach to what they were used to was both usable and amusing.


author = {Rikard Lindell},
title = {When Information Navigation Divorces File Systems - Database Surface Prototype Results},
pages = {76--81},
month = {September},
year = {2003},
booktitle = {The Good, the Bad, and the Irrelevant: The user and future of information and communication technologies},
publisher = {COST Action 269},
url = {}