Commentary: Bret Victor — Magic Ink

Bret Victor, 2006 —

This is a software crisis, and it isn’t news. For decades, the usability pundits have devoted vim and vitriol to a crusade against frustrating interfaces. Reasoning that the cure for unfriendly software is to make software friendlier, they have rallied under the banner of “interaction design,” spreading the gospel of friendly, usable interactivity to all who would listen.

Yet, software has remained frustrating, and as the importance of software to society has grown, so too has the crisis. The crusade marches on, with believers rarely questioning the sacred premise—that software must be interactive in the first place. That software is meant to be “used.”

I suggest that the root of the software crisis is an identity crisis—an unclear understanding of what the medium actually is, and what it’s for. Perhaps the spark of life is misdirected magic.

The above quote is from Bret Victor’s dense 73-page paper on “information software and the graphical interface.” If you’re into how humans program, design, and use software — read the whole damn thing. It's worth it. If you’re looking to skim it, just look at the examples of how he’d improve things, and see what aspects have come to fruition since 2006.

Bret Victor is a bit of a prolific guy, and seems to be working on a different level than most of us. Just explore his website and see what he’s done. I remembered reading this brief rant on the future of interaction design when I was still in college, and didn’t know it was the same person until today. After three years, that rant’s relevance has grown even stronger.