Marijn is a software engineer. He can only use his left hand, and
with that hand he has difficulty with fine motor control. This means
typing can be hard for him. It’s even one of the reasons why he
didn’t finish university. He had to write papers. Marijn is
incredibly intelligent, so thinking up a paper is very easy. Yet
typing it would take him ages. Basically the problem he has with
keyboard layouts is that not all keys are next to each other.
After observing Marijn using his computer, Rick Buter, a student of
mine, explored alternative ways of typing words. What if, Rick
thought, you would only need a few keys?
Link to video:
Allowing weird ideas
At first Rick didn’t dare to mention his idea, let alone create a
working prototype. When he first thought of it, it simply seemed too
ridiculous. Only when I explicitly asked my students to come up with
nonsensical ideas did he dare to make a prototype and test it.
When he first showed this prototype to Marijn, he had to laugh
indeed. It looked so ridiculous and complicated, it didn’t
seem to make any sense. Yet after trying it a few times he had to
conclude that this might actually work. If you want to
you can try the prototype for yourself.
My personal interest in nonsense has grown while I was working at a
large web design agency. Everything we did there had to make sense,
by which I mean that everything had to have an easily measurable
effect. More visitors, more money, better performance, simple things
like that. And thus we only investigated the obvious. This always
gave me the feeling that we were missing out on things.
At first this idea of making colour accessible to blind people
seemed nonsensical to me, since I assumed blind people can’t see
colour. Later it turned out that some blind people can see colour,
and others may have memory of it, like I explained in the section
Assumptions about blind people.
Just like the six-key-typing project by Rick Buter, this is an
example of using nonsense in order to allow weird ideas, and
exploring them. And in these cases they resulted in valuable new
Apart from a simple ideation tool to allow weird ideas, there are
other reasons to use nonsense as well. Other reasons are lifting
ideas beyond the obvious, breaking out of a single rusty context,
exploring the unexpected, and of course having fun.
Of course there are serious reasons for allowing nonsense into your
design process. But for me the most important reason for using
nonsense, and not some other ideation method, is to allow
fun into the design process. Designing accessibility,
helping disabled people lead an independent life is serious work.
But it can be fun as well. And only if we allow fun will we be able
to start making pleasurable user interfaces. If we do, maybe some
day in the future Léonie Watson will come over to my university
again, and this time she will be able to explain what makes an
interface fun to use for someone who is blind.