Open-Ended Conversational Interface Design

Control panel prop on the Enterprise

Of course it’s just a prop on a TV show, but those little buttons are supposed to do something. How does the crew know which to press? It’s just random numbers!

All the people on the Enterprise are so confident when they tap on their LCARS control panels… but, if you look at them up close, you’ll see the Okudagrams don’t actually describe any particular function.

So (and yes I know, it’s just a TV show) but it occurs to me that if we use our imaginations and think about how these people are actually getting work done in this environment, there must be a pretty shallow learning curve to making these totally counterintuitive interfaces do something.  What do you suppose the secret is?

I think the secret is that it doesn’t matter what you tap on.  The buttons are just placeholders for an expression of your will to take a generic action.  It’s a conversation through gestures that starts with “Hello, I’m here” and ends with “I want to turn on the lights” or “I want to beam down to the planet”.

How do you suppose we would manifest an interface like this on our primitive computers of today?  I’ve tried doing some experiments like this, and in fact one of my oldest web application development projects for an actual client started out this way.  But, it was rejected for being too weird.  But, I think I was onto something there.  It’s only taken 14 years for me to realize this, of course.

Now, my impulse is to hold this post as a draft until I’ve actually come up with some diagrams and prototypes.  But, that’s not how one blogs.  So, I’ll just say that it’s on my mind… and this topic is to be continued.


Tell all your weird friends about this!

One thought on “Open-Ended Conversational Interface Design

  1. Tydence

    I’d imagine they would be soft button interface. The display showing in english what the key does at the moment without having to learn a new pictographic language of circles and triangles and whatnot.

    Through repitition, the user gradually learns button placement or the pictographs, but it would make the learning curve on simmilar or changing devices much easier having text.

    The soft buttons buttons on a Yamaha LS9 come to mind. Each show has a new band setup. You can label the channels on the interface, so it’s easier to understand. Where is the kick drum mic? Select channel 7, and the label pops up. That’s it. No guessing. It is all digitally saved, so when the band returns in a few weeks its all the same.

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