Show Us Your Tech

Bill Buxton Shows Us His Favorite Tech

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This year at CHI 2011, Bill Buxton was invited to display his personal collection of gadgets. These include a wide variety of things, from toys like the Skedoodle and the Power Glove to Chord Keyboards and UMPC's. The collection represents 35 years of Bill looking at devices with his unique eye toward design and usability. Some of the objects seem oddly out of place, like a Swiss Army Knife or transistor radio, but as Bill explains, each one of these has lessons that user experience designers can learn from. Bill took time to walk Niners through some of these objects and talk about what they mean to him.

As I spent several hours browsing the exhibit before it opened, I saw dozens of people walk by and press their nose up against the glass, smiling and taking pictures with their phones. I was struck by how many of these objects touched our lives briefly, and how often we forget about the gadgets and gizmos that amazed us in a not-too-distant past. Best of all, the web team at MSR along with Bill have done a great job making a Pivot Collection that all of us can enjoy any time we like. You can browse the collection here.



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    The Discussion

    • hans ket

      What a dedication and a great way of thinking/looking at thinks. Learned a lot thanks to Bill!!!

    • USArcher

      Many thanks for putting that collection together.  I've been immersed for the last half hour or so.

    • Bas

      Great stuff.

    • ryanb

      Great video.  I wish it kept going for a couple more hours to hear Bill's insights about the other devices too.  Every designer at Microsoft should be required to spend some time with Bill and this display and learn some lessons from history.

      Thanks to the web team for putting the web site material together.  I have only briefly looked at it so far, but it is a nice collection.  However, my concern with both the MS display and the web site, is that the most valuable piece is missing.  The devices are presented with brief descriptions and comments.  But the real value comes in through Bill's narration -- providing his insights into the significance and lessons of each of these devices.  Most people, when looking over the collection, will see a nice collection of technology artifacts, but completely miss the lesson.  It's only through the explanation (as in this video) that the true significance of these objects starts to come out and become obvious.  Bill mentioned that more information will be added to the web collection over time.  If there is some way to add Bill's narration of these items to the collection as well, that would make it ever so much more useful as far as teaching the lessons of our technology history.


    • Calciol

      What is happeningi in the background 7:16-7:18 ! A Laptop disappearing ?

    • Calciol

      Fantastic video more Buxton on Channel 9, you rock !

    • Don Antonio

      Bill Buxton is the Seneca of our times I guess. The way he gets to the true nature of thinks is absolutely inspiring.

    • Richard.Hein

      Awesome.  I have or had quite a few of those devices.  My Kinesis Classic saved my wrists years ago - it's my favorite and I've been using it for almost 10 years now. 

    • Kevin_​Schofield

      @Calciol:Um, yeah, that was probably me. This video was shot the morning before the exhibit opened, and we were still putting the finishing touches on things. It's pretty amazing, nothing was stolen all week.

    • Kevin_​Schofield

      @ryanb: Bill is working on that. He wanted to use the exhibit this week to work on how to tell the stories. He knows he has a lot of writing to do now... but he's looking forward to it.

    • antremo2

      Very cool...want to see more! Big Smile

    • Bill Buxton

      @ryanb: Your comments about the MSR Web Team are right on!  They let me join their team and it was fantastic to be a part of that talent and energy.

      As for going forward, yes, there is no disagreement in terms of the important of the narratives and developing the underlying themes.  Yes, we are well on the way of doing more extended write-ups on each of the items in the collection, and these will start being added soon. 

      But, none of us will be happy as long as the site is justabout the devices or gadgets (not that they are not an important part of the story).  It is just that the site is imcomplete without balancing that part with fleshing out themes that can be illustrated by bridging across devices, and developing the associated narrative. 

      We just didn't have time to get that done prior to the event.  As it was, we all has a sleep-deprived month.  However, we are on the case, and we are committed to doing this.  One of the things that I got most out of the physical exhibit at CHI in Vancouver was the chance to get feedback from the exhibit visitors, as well as to "work the stories", a bit like how a comedian might work their material in comedy clubs before going on David Letterman.

      It will come, along with videos of use (already starting to appear), the longer descriptions, and additional items in the collection.

      In short, it is a work in progress, and feedback is more than welcome, and will be taken really seriously.  So, stay tuned, and keep the comments coming!


    • ryanb

      @ Bill and Kevin:  Sounds great!  Looking forward to seeing it develop.

    • exoteric

      I love these gadgets. I've only skimmed the collection so far but what strikes me is how innovative many new electronic music instruments are. I've seen much more innovation in this area than many other places. I hope your collection will expand to include the wonderous world of electronic music instruments, if it doesn't already.

      See for example this:

      And this Eigenharp:

      And this Continuum:


    • BlackTiger

      Love swiss knife morale. But constantly wondering why people don't understand such simple idea? "less IS more" everywhere and everytime.

    • trektech

      I love learning about tech history but when I saw that this was a 28 min video about gadgets (or so I thought) I figured I would get bored after 5 mins. and stop it. Instead, after 28 minutes of listening to Bill and sensing the humble genius's brain churning in the background pausing to search through the archives in his head for the right thing to say, I couldn't help being drawn in and wanting more. He has put together a great collection over the years and, unlike myself, he had the foresight to keep these devices for future generations to explore and learn from.

      Thanks for a very enlightening video and a great website to go along with it Bill. I wonder if the people who work with you realize how lucky they are? 

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