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TechTalk - NUI - What’s in a Name?

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Natural User Interface, or NUI, is one of the favourite flavours du jour in certain interaction design and user experience circles. On the one hand, the term signals a change from the Graphical User Interace, or GUI, that has been prevalent since the early 1980s. In many ways, that is good. Not that the GUI is going to go away (any more than the QWERTY keyboard, I predict). But progress does, as they say, progress. And just because there was a great idea that took hold, does not mean that that is all that there is.

But beyond the name, what is this new thing? As far as I can see, the answer depends on who you ask. Ask enough people, and you will see that it can mean anything - which means, by the way, that it might mean nothing. I don’t view it that way. Yes, there are a lot of diverse views. But that also means that there is a lot of diverse conversations accompanying them, and I see that as healthy. Complacency is rarely a worthy aspiration for design. But out of the collective conversations one would hope that there is some convergence - which might be another term for insight or growth.

The purpose of this talk is to throw my own thoughts into the fray - for better or for worse. Taking my cue from the term itself, I’ll start like a good naturalist, and strip the term bare, and build from there. Starting with diving into the essence of the term natural.

Biography: Bill Buxton is the author of "Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design", published jointly by Morgan Kaufmann and Focal Press as well as a columnist on design and innovation for He is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and has a 30 year involvement in research, design and commentary around human aspects of technology, and digital tools for creative endeavour, including music, film and industrial design. Prior to joining Microsoft, he was a researcher at Xerox PARC, a professor at the University of Toronto, and Chief Scientist of Alias Research and SGI Inc. - where 2003 he was co-recipient of an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement. In 2007, he was named Doctor of Design, honoris causa, by the Ontario College of Art and Design, in 2008 became the 10th reci-pient of the ACM/SIGCHI Lifetime Achievement Award for fundamental contributions to the field of human-computer interaction. In January 2009 was elected a Fellow of the ACM, in June was awarded a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by his alma mater, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, and in November was awarded an honourary doctorate in Industrial Design from the Technical University of Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Finally, in 2010, BusinessWeek named Bill among the World's Most Influential Designers.



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The Discussion

  • User profile image

    Very interesting talk!

    Thanks Smiley

  • User profile image

    That went by quite fast for a 90min video.

  • User profile image
    Awesome Video Smiley. Great to learn about Simon and other cool historic devices. Watching this video, makes you wonder, why did Microsoft abandon Courier project. It would have been revolutionary.
  • User profile image

    , silvercrux.​com wrote

    Awesome Video Smiley. Great to learn about Simon and other cool historic devices. Watching this video, makes you wonder, why did Microsoft abandon Courier project. It would have been revolutionary.


    I thought the same thing. I was amazed to see the things the industry was doing with touch in the 70s. We should be much farther along than we are.

  • User profile image

    Great talk! A perfect example of real history and terchnology!

  • User profile image

    Question to Bill Buxton: Any good reading material/pointers on the bimanual asymmetric action stuff? Smiley

  • User profile image
    Bill Buxton

    @ShinNoNoir:  Yes.  A major source of inspiration for me is the work of my good friend Yves Guiard and this paper which laid the foundation for what I discussed in this talk:
    Guiard, Yves (1987)  Asymmetric Division of Labor in Human Skilled Bimanual Action:   The Kinematic Chain as a Model.  Slightly edited version of an article originally published in Journal of Motor Behavior, 1987, 19, 486-517
    I duplicate the hand writing example in this video:
    There is also a draft chapter on bi-manual input co-written with Yves and another colleague, Abi Sellen.  It is from an in-progress book that I am doing on human input to digital systems. You can find a draft of the book here:
    and the specific chapter on bi-manual input here:
    Finally, much of the work around bi-manual input  that I have been involved in is listed here:
    Sorry if this is waaay too much information.  But I figured that it was better to err on the side of inclusiveness, and at the same time, prioritize things.  Yves paper -  the first one listed - may be a bit of a slog if you are not used to reading the psych literature.  But it is worth it.
    Thanks for asking.

  • User profile image

    Simply amazing.

    Thank you Bill!

  • User profile image

    Does anybody know (maybe Bill himself ;), what book Bill is referring to, when he was talking about errors being a good thing. It was a book he was reading at the time he gave the talk.

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