Snufkin's Digital Garden


"Screen As Room: An architectural perspective on user interfaces"

Added: 2020-12-11 | Updated: 2020-12-11
Categories 📚: Tech xperience
External Link 🔗: https://www.christophlabacher.com/notes/screen-as-room
Type 📍: Essay

Note 📝

Labacher explores seven properties of physical spaces that can be seen as metaphors — not models — for digital interfaces.

The most compelling bit for me is his fifth point: shared space. Think of the ways in which we communicate through our use of space. Labacher used the example of working with your door open or closed to indicate your openness to social interaction. Furthermore, our space overlaps with others: a shared kitchen or bathroom, even passing others in the hallway requires some navigation of what Labacher calls the interaction space, the overlap of multiple persons' peripersonal spaces. User interfaces try to emulate presence and intention through indicators like "online," "typing...," and the dreaded "Seen ✔". But how can they emulate that overlap in space? Collaborative writing platforms come to mind, where your blinking cursor may zip past someone else's, or another person may blink, unmoving, within a block of text selected by another user. Or shared project management platforms, which I'm sure have some such feature (I've never used PM software in a team setting).

His observation about purposefully articulated space was also interesting. Mass-produced ("developer-built") software, like houses, are often produced for the market, resulting in a conventionally functional product without regard to the union of utility, form, and purpose. I distinguish between utility and purpose with utility being the function (I use VSCodium to code) and purpose being the intention (VSCode is made for coding). So many cookie-cutter suburban houses have utility, but the form and purpose are lacking — how many can be called homes, truly made to be lived in? How many meals are meant to be tasted, not just consumed? How many interfaces are meant to be explored, not just browsed?

I think a lot about video games as spatial experiences. I don't have a VR rig (I've only tried it once) but the feeling of being placed in an entirely different space has lingered like a particularly dirty lick at a blues jam. I look at the games I play, how they use perspective, angle, and scale. I never really brought that mode of thinking to interfaces. Reading this essay was really eye-opening and will certainly lead to further study.