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Windows on Theory
Posted by Rob Knies
“3-D printing’s been around for years and years and years. That was called milling machines and, later on, stereolithography, but the cost has changed by orders of magnitude, which makes it possible—just as lower cost made personal computers become accessible. It’s the same kind of thing, personal manufacturing.”That’s Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research, discussing design during the latest episode in Channel 9’s ongoing series Microsoft Research Luminaries. Buxton, author of the book Sketching User Experiences, is joined by Jeff Han, a pioneer in multitouch interaction, for the first of four weekly discussions with host Larry Larsen, scheduled to be released each Wednesday during the month of February.It’s quite a combination. Han, a Microsoft general manager, is perhaps best known as the founder of Perceptive Pixel, a company that researched, developed, and produced multitouch-interface devices before being sold to Microsoft in 2012. Buxton, meanwhile, is a passionate—his webpage uses the word “relentless”—advocate for the importance of effective design.In this initial conversation, Buxton and Han swap stories and anecdotes and discuss their individual forays into user interaction. The long-form nature of the interview gives the speakers time to deliver their tales in a relaxed, informal manner that comes across less as a video interview and more as a chat between longtime friends, which, we learn soon enough, they actually are. A couple of minutes after making the observation about 3-D printing mentioned above, Buxton recalls a conversation about student skills he had with the late Brian Shackel, a Loughborough University professor who was one of Great Britain’s foremost authorities on human-computer interaction.“He said the students had grown up playing with Lego bits, Meccano sets, soldering, chemistry sets, fixing cars, bicycles, sewing, pottery … whatever, but they had a strong sense of materials and making,” Buxton says. “There are lots of people who can do that. That’s not sufficient. It’s essential but not sufficient. But they also had the ability, when they looked at a problem, to step up and go meta and be able to get the right abstractions, see relationships, and then they were able to work outside in, as opposed to top down or bottom up.“It was: ‘I’m aware of all these technologies that are out there. That’s my palette of colors, my repertoire of tricks, and here’s my sense of the problem. I can generalize and see the thing scale enough that I can find, in the most pragmatic way possible, how to squeeze it down. I can be completely compromised on the technology if I understand that it’s not the hardware/software, it’s the wetware.’ It’s the human that’s the most important technology.”Don’t forget to check back the next three Wednesdays for more of this entertaining exchange.