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Human Face of the Human Interface

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John M. Carroll, founder of the User Interface Institute at IBM's Watson Research lab and a professor at Pennsylvania State University, says the ability to pick up a new device and start using it without having to read a manual is a result of the hard work of human factors researchers. Technology interfaces have improved significantly over the years, Carroll says, who notes that the Web is well crafted in many ways for designing easy software. However, he says there are still several areas where designers miss. Too often, creating an "intuitive" interface means recreating something the user is accustomed too, but humans are constantly evolving and changing. "I think people think of help systems and user interface agents by constructing a theory of mind, and the problem is that if the theory of mind is very simple and boring then it might actually be useful — predictable, understandable," Carroll says. "But if you try to get beyond that, and especially if you lie — and by lying I mean cases where designers have gone to some effort to project intelligence that their software does not have in any serious sense — it may have it in an idealistic sense but it doesn't do anything intelligent, creative, human — you get a breakdown."

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