The Humane Interface, by Jef Raskin

Posted: October 6, 2003 at 1:43 pm in nonfiction

Jef Raskin was one of the primary designers of the Apple Macintosh, and has been respected in the human-computer interaction field ever since. I’d been meaning to pick up this book ever since I first read about it in the Good Experience newsletter. So when a friend was giving his copy away, I grabbed it. I have to agree with his review, though. The first four chapters are interesting reflections on what it takes to make a good interface; I especially like his discussion of how to design an interface such that it fades into being automatic (tips include reducing modal interfaces, because modes mean you have to think about what mode you’re in before launching into your automatic keystroke sequence). His point is that we as humans will develop habits, and computers should adapt to those habits rather than the other way around. This first part of the book deals with cognetics, a term he coins in analogy to ergonomics, the study of arranging things to be most efficient and comfortable for the human body. Cognetics is designing for the limitations and tendencies of the human mind. Raskin has several good observations about our tendencies as users, and how interfaces can be designed to accommodate those tendencies.

Then Raskin decides to evangelize for the operating system that he designed for the Canon Cat. I like a lot of the ideas he’s trying to design to, but his actual design choices seem pretty awful to me. Maybe that’s because I’m brainwashed by the current design of computers and have gotten used to them. But it does get repetitive hearing him talk about the wonders of his own design. And his detours into hard-core quantitative user interface testing were really dull to me. So I skimmed through a lot of the second part of the book.

Overall, probably worth a library checkout. Not a purchase.

One Response to “The Humane Interface, by Jef Raskin”

  1. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || The Transparent Society, by David Brin || December || 2003 Says:

    […] Like The Humane Interface, I picked this up when a friend was giving it away. I read most of it last month, and then finally finished it over Thanksgiving weekend. Brin is asking an interesting question: is privacy a lost cause? And, if so, what is the proper way to respond? […]

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