User Interface Innovations

Design is a critical component to the success of long-term innovative companies. Design and the design process helps inform our designers and developers about the products they are building. It is possible to build great technology companies without design, however the companies that define a market and are sustained innovators rely on design to guide their product direction. This can be seen from earlier examples of innovative companies, including IDEO, Apple and Sony, all rely on great design to build the next generation of great products.

Where do the opportunities exist?

There are a number of venture opportunities that exist based on design innovations.

Visualization Toolkits

We are beginning to see the development of visualization toolkits that enable developers to use services to visualize and analyze information and navigation. Design research into unique interactions and visualizations could inform the creation of future development and navigation tools as a platform.


  • Visual Insights – visualization, performance management and analytics software spin out from Bell Labs/Lucent
  • Inxight Software – visualization toolkit company spin out from XeroxPARC
  • ThinkMap – hyperbolic navigation tools spin out from Plumb Design
  • The Brain – information management and visualization tools
  • Jazz – a zooming user interface toolkik developed in Jazz by Ben Bederson at the HCIL, Universtity of Maryland (HCIL has a large visulization group working on both novel visualizations and their applications)

Cross Device User Interface Toolkits

The number of devices available to consumers for use in the computing environment has increased in the past couple of years. Computing platforms and devices are designed to support the interaction between one user and one computer. There is a need to redefine the application development tools, application stack and event heaps to allow multiple users to access multiple devices. Understand the interaction and collaboration between users and their devices will inform both the software infrastructure needed to integrate multiple devices but also the user interface toolkit needed to build these collaborative platforms.


  • Pebbles Project – a research project at CMU investigating the use of multiple handhelds in collaboration with a personal computer
  • Interactive Workspaces – a research project at Stanford investigating software architectures for immersive work environments
  • XWT – a cross-platform toolkit that "projects user interfaces" anywhere on the Internet
  • Mozilla XP Toolkit (XUL) – cross-platform toolkit to build user interfaces using a markup language


Email is still the dominant application of the Internet generation. As we look forward, communication and collaboration are technologies that enable new types of human collaboration. New collaboration and communication technologies typically do not replace existing collaboration methods, they often augment the existing communication capabilities. Examples of these phenomena include email not replacing the telephone, but becoming another communication channel. ICQ and instant messaging does not replace email but adds another communication channel. Corporations can continue to use design methodologies to study the work practices and organization changes of communication technologies and build new ventures and platforms around fostering new kinds of human network communication.


  • Zaplet, Inc. – Zaplet began as a interface exploration of HTML Mail could change the user interaction with a standard mail client
  • Groove Networks – Groove is Ray Ozzie, the founder of Lotus Notes, new venture to develop an infrastructure for peer-to-peer collaborative applications
  • Netscape – Netscape was the first commercial application of the Mosaic browser used to enable research scientists to collaborate using a graphical user interface

Novel Input Devices

Input devices have tremendous potential to alter the way that people interact with computers. One of the largest areas for improvement to the input device has come in the design of mobile computing systems, i.e., PDAs, handhelds, cellphones. To increase the functionality and improve the usability, mobile device designers have created new techniques for interaction. The design of gaming control pads has also pushed the limits on input device design.


  • Danger, Inc.’s Hiptop – Danger has created a next generation mobile device that converges the mobile phone, personal information management, web browsing and instant messaging
  • Xbox – Microsoft’s Xbox, while not the first, it does have some interesting input devices. There is the Controller S, the MC2 Racing Wheel, the Freestyler Board by Thrustmaster
  • Sega Dreamcast – The Dreamcast had 2 of my favorite input devices: the InterAct Fishing Rod; and the maracas controller for Samba de Amigo
  • FingerWorks TouchStream Keyboards – The Fingerworks keyboard offers zero force keys and a gesture sensitive surface for chording.
  • Digit Wireless Fasttap keypad – Fasttap is a unique keypad that places all 26 letters of the English alphabet on the keypad 10 digits and a more than 6 other useful keys./li>