These Lego control panels will teach you all about physical interface design

Lego has a two-stud brick with a 45° slope that's used as a control panel on various vehicle kits, from automobiles to underwater craft to extraterrestrial shuttles. George Cave, a senior interaction technologist at KISKA in Salzburg Austria, collected 52 different Lego control panels and use them in a terrific mini-course in physical interface design.

Here's an excerpt:

Differentiating inputs

What could cause 400 WWII pilots to raise the landing gear on their B-17 bomber just before touchdown? Catastrophic pilot error, or something more fundamental?

It was the psychologist Alphonsis Chapanis who first suggested that the high rate of crash landings might be the fault of poor interface design. The adjacent landing gear and flap control knobs were identically shaped. The pilots never stood a chance.

B-17 belly landing, and the shape coding that helped to irradiate the problem. Source: Wikipedia

His temporary solution was to glue differently shaped strips of rubber to each switch, enabling blind operation by touch alone. This gave rise to the idea of shape coding and a system of differentiation still being followed in aircraft cockpits today.

We can compare the three interfaces [at the top] to see this in action. Ignore the overall layout, it’s the differences between individual switches that matter here. Imagine trying to feel for one of these buttons without looking. The left panel (“Slope 45 2 x 2 with 12 Buttons”) would require careful hand-eye co-ordination. The right panel (“Aircraft Multiple Flight Controls”) clearly distinguishes between the throttle (large, linear vertical movement), toggle switches (round vertical flick) and the push buttons (square push-in).

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The user interfaces depicted on lego bricks

The internet is still wonderful, a fact exemplified by The UX of LEGO Interface Panels, an article by George Cave col0lecting the tiny computer screens, keyboads and dials found on Lego bricks.
All of our approaches so far: organisation by features, operation or technology, have been grounded in properties of the system, not of the user. Organisation by use-case is the antidote to this, a clustering based on the daily routines and tasks of the user.Imagine arriving for work each day at the LEGO body scanner factory. Grouping the switches by task (prepare machine, load body, process scan…) would mean splitting up the radiation and scanner buttons into many different regions. More complex for the computer, but more streamlined for the operator. As the designer, only you and your users will be the judge of what works best.
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How to turn off Netflix autoplay of previews

I get overly frustrated when I'm browsing Netflix and it autoplays previews. Finally, they've enabled a way to turn that off (and also the autoplay of the next episode of a series). You can only flip the switch by logging into your account on a Web browser though. Here's how:

To turn autoplay on or off: 1. Sign In to Netflix from a web browser. 2. Select Manage Profiles from the menu. 3. Select the profile you’d like to update.

Check or uncheck the option to Autoplay previews while browsing on all devices.

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How Susan Kare applied embroidery skills to create the iconic Macintosh icons

In the early 1980s, Susan Kare joined Apple Computer to design fonts and user interface graphics. A legend of pixel art, Kare created the look of the original Macintosh, from the Chicago typeface to the Trash Can to the Happy Mac icon. She's currently creative director at Pinterest. David Kindy profiles Kare in Smithsonian:

Pioneering designer Susan Kare was taught by her mother how to do counted-thread embroidery, which gave her the basic knowledge she needed to create the first icons for the Apple Macintosh 35 years ago.

“It just so happened that I had small black and white grids to work with,” she says. “The process reminded me of working needlepoint, knitting patterns or mosaics. I was lucky to have had a mother who enjoyed crafts..."

Designing the icons proved to be more of a challenge (than the typefaces). Reproducing artwork on those primitive CRT surfaces, which used a bit-mapped matrix system with points of light, or pixels, to display data, was a designer’s nightmare.

However, the friend who recommended Kare for the job—-Andy Hertzfeld, then lead software architect for Macintosh-—had an idea. Since the matrix was essentially a grid, he suggested Kare get the smallest graph paper she could find. She then blocked out a 32-by-32 square and began coloring in squares to create the graphics...

After leaving Apple in 1986, Kare became creative director for Apple cofounder Steve Jobs at the short-lived NeXT, Inc., an influential computer startup that was eventually acquired by Apple. She founded her own eponymous design firm in 1989, which created graphic designs for hundreds of clients, including Autodesk, Facebook, Fossil, General Magic, IBM, Microsoft and PayPal.

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Tiktok's internal policies are both weird and terrible

Tiktok bills itself as apolitical, despite the fact that is both a de facto arm of Chinese political propaganda (and, weirdly, for Uyghur human rights activists). Read the rest

User Inyerface: collecting every "dark pattern" of web design in one place

Bagaar's User Inyerface is a frustratingly hilarious set of web dark-patterns that you have to navigate your way through, as a kind of remarkably enraging game. I got stuck on the captchas, whose windoid was too small for the relevant checkboxes to be activated. Can you get further than me? (via Four Short Links) Read the rest

The promise and peril of "sonification": giving feedback through sound

The majority of applications use "visualization" to give feedback and responses to users: think of graphs, alerts, and other visual cues about what is going on inside a computer, or what the computer has detected in the world. Read the rest

Installing a root certificate should be MUCH scarier

The news that Facebook had spent years paying teens to install a surveillance kit called "Facebook Research" had a key detail: as part of the program, Facebook had its users install a new "root certificate." Read the rest

Conducting "evil" computer research, in the name of good

The next CHI (computer-human interaction) conference is being held on May 5 in Glasgow, and will include a workshop called CHI4Evil, "Creative Speculation on the Negative Effects of HCI Research," in which scholars, researchers and practitioners are invited to "anticipate and reflect on the potential downsides of our technology design, research, and implementation" through design fiction, speculative design, and other tools. Read the rest

Thunderbird team vows faster, easier-to-use, more stable versions in the year to come

In 2015, Mozilla announced that it would turn Thunderbird -- one of the last freestanding, cross-platform email clients -- into a freestanding, independent project, and in 2017, Thunderbird became a community-overseen project with institutional backing from Moz. Read the rest

Inter UI: A free font for "high legibility of small-to-medium sized text on computer screens"

Inter UI is a family of freeware fonts with ""a tall x-height to aid in readability of mixed-case and lower-case text" designed for small screen text. (via Four Short Links) Read the rest

A science-fiction-inspired desktop UI for your Lin/Win/Mac system

Squared (AKA Gaby) is a French hacker who created edex-ui, a science-fiction inspired desktop "heavily inspired from DEX-UI and the TRON Legacy movie effects," which gives you a terminal and live telemetry from your system; it looks like it would be especially fun on a tablet (though if you really wanna go sci fi, build a homebrew cyberspace deck). Read the rest

When should web designers use modal overlays?

"This web page needs to be interrupted by a lightbox effect and a modal dialog asking me to sign up for a mailing list," said no one ever. Read the rest

Listen: how to secure software by caring about humans, not security

Scout Brody is executive director of Simply Secure, a nonprofit that works to make security and privacy technologies usable by technologically unsophisticated people by focusing on usability and human factors. Read the rest

Washington Post and Jigsaw launch a collaborative pop-up dictionary of security jargon

Information security's biggest obstacle isn't the mere insecurity of so many of our tools and services: it's the widespread lack of general knowledge about fundamental security concepts, which allows scammers to trick people into turning off or ignoring security red flags. Read the rest

With Windows 10, Microsoft doubles down on forced updates and reboots (save your work!)

Windows 10 takes one of the most hated aspects of Microsoft operating systems -- forced, sudden software updates and reboots -- and elevates them to a sadistic art, with Win 10 machines suddenly announcing that it's update time and rendering themselves inoperable for up to an hour, wiping out unsaved work and locking users out of their computers while they're onstage, or in the middle of large file uploads, or livecasting, or completing a live test for college admission, taking notes during an interview, etc. Read the rest

Historic accord reached in bum-washing bidet toilet UI conventions

Japan's leading bidet toilet manufacturers (including Toto, Panasonic, and Toshiba) have come together through their industry association, the Japan Sanitary Equipment Industry Association, to agree upon a common set of UI conventions for the meanings of the icons on the buttons on the bidets' control panels, thus ending an era in which you might think you were getting "wash and dry" but actually ended up with "layer-cut and dye-job." Read the rest

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