Keyboard keys jump the shark

July 2, 2007 | Permalink | 8 Comments

Lately, it seems like there has been a rash of products elevating ordinary keyboard keys to pop culture status. They’ve become an ironic take on our digital life. They take an ordinary thing we use everyday out of their normal context. They’re jumping the shark.

Take a look at these recent products, all found via Gizmodo.

Key Rings

The first up is the weirdest. These are actual rings that you can wear and push. They have bonafide keyboard action. Would you want to impress your friends with your Ctrl ring?

Marché Noir’s Computer Key Rings are spring mounted to accurately reproduce the action on your favorite key – so you can hit it whenever you need to reboot your cool.


Or, you can buy one of these lovely keyboard wall clocks. Enough said.

Delete Eraser

But personally, this is my favorite, seriously. The Delete eraser, created by Art.Lebedev Studio, who also makes the Optimus keyboard. This is ironic in a good way. The eraser erases. It really deletes. Ok, it’s funny, but I like it.


One Year!

June 26, 2007 | Permalink | Comment?

As of Sunday, the History of the Button has been up and running for one year. Bizarre how the time flies. It seems like just yesterday it was Monday.

I wasn’t really sure what would happen when I started this blog, but it’s been quite rewarding. The research has gone in directions I never imagined from the beginning, and somehow, the overall story is coming into shape, piece by piece. It’s one of those stories that you really can’t get a handle on without first collecting pieces to see what you have, then puzzle it all together. And yes, I am thinking about putting it together into a book.

The next step seems to be thinking about the Future History of the Button. What happens to our interaction with technology now that surface computing has arrived? What possibilities does that lead to? Do buttons go away or evolve? Is RFID a button? It’s the fun wacky questions like these that helps us step outside our professional boxes to see where we are, have been, and are going.

I enjoy all your comments, emails, tidbits and suggestions. You’ve made this a very fun adventure for me. Keep it up! Thanks for all your support.


Slot machines go high tech

June 7, 2007 | Permalink | 2 Comments

There are a lot of buttons in Las Vegas. Lose lose lose win lose win lose lose win lose lose free drink win lose. Slot machines provide mountains of revenue for casinos from people pushing buttons. But gambling (or as the industry prefers to call it, gaming) is about to become even crazier.

A recent article in the Las Vegas Sun (via Fimoculous) describes the new widescreen connected slot machine. These uber-tech slot machines let…

… multiple gamblers can participate in one another’s bonus round or compete against one another for prizes… and can watch as their high scores are tallied on display boards.

Gamble against each other! They call it “community gaming.”

Also, because these slot machines are 20″ to 26″ widescreens, they can add more reels, up to seven side by side. Afraid that might take a long time to cherry bell blank seven bell blank blank?

By pushing the “spin” button in quick succession, players can stop the spin of all seven reels before they come to a complete stop on their own, speeding up the game but not changing the result of the game.

Oh, maybe you can gain some control of the spinning!

(By state law, the outcome of each spin is determined by a computer chip that triggers a random result at the initial push of a button.)


But more interestingly, these new slot machines are just a transition to the massive overhaul of the entire industry.

Many casino operators are holding out on big purchases while manufacturers work on a longer-term project: computer systems that will control entire casino floors from a central server. It will be years before casinos introduce so-called downloadable games on a large scale because they are waiting to see how these more expensive systems will perform. These futuristic games will be more customized than any before them because they will allow operators to change game titles, bonus features, denominations and jackpots at the push of a button.

Ah. Not only will the gamer get a better button, but the backstage maestro will get a much more better button. Change the whole scene on the floor at will. Hey, it’s 7:30pm! All the slot machines switch to a Blue Man Group game where you can win tickets for tonight’s show! Now, for the next ten minutes, all cherries pay triple!

Slot machines have definitely come a long way since they were introduced in 1895.

The crazy things humans do when technology advances.



May 18, 2007 | Permalink | 7 Comments

Speaking of onscreen buttons, here’s a scary dialog box that Adobe InDesign presented to me a few days ago.


“Remove all your applications, destroy your data, and publish your bank account information on the webs? Would you like to answer yes?”


Add to cart buttons

May 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comment?

Here’s a nice study from Get Elastic of how different companies design their Add to Cart buttons, all linked to their actual shopping carts. There’s even statistics. Of the 111 “shopping cart” buttons, 58% use the phrase “Add to Cart” while the rest is a mishmash.

Add to cart

This is a great example of how the language of new technologies waffle over a time until settling on a winning phrase. It’s almost a folksonomy of shopping cart buttons.


Space Commander Helmet

May 13, 2007 | Permalink | 2 Comments

There has been quite a bit of interest this weekend in my research on the Zenith Space Command remote controls. If this is your first time here, welcome!

But if you really love remote controls, here is something for you.

New reader Phil spotted this great auction on eBay where you can buy an original promotional item for the first Space Command remote controls.

Space Command helmet

From the eBay auction,

ZENITH Space Commander Helmet Premium, Zenith c.1952. This premium was given out to store customers (their children, of course) during the introduction of the first TV remote control device, the “Zenith Space Command.” Six silverized multicolor litho cardboard pieces come together to make this gorgeous 20″ tall (from shoulder-piece base to antenna-tip) space helmet premium. Since this item is made of cardboard, there is some wear and tear, creasing, tab wear, etc., though item, when assembled, looks truly great! Included is the large 28″x21″ litho paper bag with instructions; crinkling, folds, moderate wear, large tear near top of bag (not near any of the litho). Impressive display piece from the early Space Age!

That is pure awesome. If you buy it, you have to take a photo of you wearing it and send it to me.


Button Psych: Deal or No Deal

May 6, 2007 | Permalink | Comment?

I love Deal or No Deal. I grew up watching game shows and I love this one. It perfectly counters probability analysis against classic human greed and then crystallizes that tension into whether or not you push a button.

Deal or No Deal

As I’ve written about before, the button on Deal or No Deal symbolizes the final prize. You can cover up the button/prize and scream No Deal or you can push the button/prize and make a Deal. It’s beautiful in its simplicity.

But now you can listen to Howie Mandel (the host) talk about it himself. Watch Donny Deutsch from CNBC interview Howie about the psychology of the button, how contestants react to it and then slam it closed. An excerpt:

Howie: I love that it’s this lucite box that covers it. You can’t get to it but you can see it. The prize is there [pointing at the button] but you can’t get to it. You shut it out [closes case] but it’s still there to go “look what you gave up”.

Warning: This is laughingly bad quality video. Seriously. It’s filming the TV with my digital camera balanced on an ice bucket balanced on an upside-down trash can sitting on an ironing board in a hotel room at one o’clock in the morning bad. Literally.

See inside for the video interview and the full transcript.



The OK Button, origins

May 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comment?

So where did the OK button come from? It first appeared widespread on Mac OS 1.0, but it really started before that during the development of the Apple Lisa.

From folklore.org…

When the software required confirmation from the user, it displayed a small window called a “dialog box”, that contained a question, and presented two buttons, for positive or negative confirmation. The buttons were labeled “Do It” and “Cancel”. The designers observed that a few users seemed to stumble at the point that the dialog was displayed, clicking “Cancel” when they should have clicked “Do It”, but it wasn’t clear what they were having trouble with.

Finally, the team noticed one user that was particularly flummoxed by the dialog box, who even seemed to be getting a bit angry. The moderator interrupted the test and asked him what the problem was. He replied, “I’m not a dolt, why is the software calling me a dolt?”

It turns out he wasn’t noticing the space between the ‘o’ and the ‘I’ in ‘Do It’; in the sans-serif system font we were using, a capital ‘I’ looked very much like a lower case ‘l’, so he was reading ‘Do It’ as ‘Dolt’ and was therefore kind of offended.

After a bit of consideration, we switched the positive confirmation button label to ‘OK’ (which was initially avoided, because we thought it was too colloquial), and from that point on people seemed to have fewer problems.

Interesting. “Do it!” is the same as previous versions of Enter or Execute. It’s commanding the machine to do something. OK is acquiescing to the machine, forming a partnership. In the end, the simple OK button may have contributed to the success of the Macintosh. It changed the relationship between person and computer, away from the master and slave mentality toward a friendlier world where the computer is a partner.

I’m not sure we’re there yet.


The OK Button

April 23, 2007 | Permalink | 5 Comments

OK, that was easy. I may have finally figured out which is my favorite button.

The OK button.

It’s universal, ubiquitous, friendly, decisive, connected. It’s on your screen, it’s in your pocket. It’s everywhere. It’s you and the machine having a casual conversation. “How’s this?” “OK!” We probably say OK dozens of times each day without realizing it. It’s a word that requires two people, the speaker and the listener. OK is connection.

All interaction with technology is a conversation. You ask a device to do something. It responds with a question or some choices. In most situations, your simplest response is to simply say OK. The OK button is the handshake. You and the device have worked together to a mutual agreement. “Do you want to save this phone number?” OK. “Do you want to print your document two-sided?” OK.

OK button

It’s the one button that requires nearly no translation. Luckily, it’s also one of the most compact words available. OK. Two letters that will fit on any button. OK is not just a word anymore. It’s an icon. A wordicon.

OK typically lives in the center of four arrows, navigational controls for maneuvering around menus or other onscreen options. It sits in the center, offering comfort. It grounds you when you’re lost. It affirms when you’re done. Don’t worry, it’s OK.

OK replaces Select. Select has a hollow technical ring to it. When was the last time you used Select in normal casual conversation? Hello waiter, I will select the house salad. Which movie should we select to see? I am selecting this tie to wear at my very important business meeting. Select is not something you or I do. Select is a technical description of what a hypothetical someone else does.

Enter is just as bad. In conversation, what do we really Enter? (Hey now, there are kids in the room.) A building? Numbers in a spreadsheet? The Dragon? Select and Enter are commands to machines. OK is a conversation with your friend, technology.



Push-button starting all the rage

April 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comment?

A few faithful readers pointed me to this New York Times article about push-button starting at the New York International Auto Show. Bye-bye car keys?

Cars of course did not start out requiring keys. In the beginning, you just pushed the starter button to engage the system. As always, vandals and thieves appeared, so crude mechanical keys served us well for about a hundred years. They served as a double security, first at the door and second at the ignition. But now…

They can be found on about 55 cars and trucks, including luxury models from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and on Nissan’s inexpensive Versa as part of a $700 “convenience package.” Push-button starters have also become standard on hybrid-electric vehicles, like the Toyota Prius.

The Prius led the way here, even using our familiar Power icon to reinforce the message, “hey, I’m digital!”

Here’s how it works…

Today’s keyless models use a fob — the small remote control device that most modern cars use to lock and unlock doors — but it performs the additional duty of sending a signal to the ignition. For the car to start, the fob has to be somewhere near the dashboard, perhaps stowed in a cup holder.

A driver then just needs to put a foot on the brake, and push the button. The engine comes to life, or, in the case of hybrids, the word “ready” lights up on the dashboard. Turning off the car happens the same way: gearshift in park, foot on the brake, finger on the button.

Of course, if you lose the fob, it’s probably a lot more expensive than losing your keys. Probably a nice source of revenue for the auto dealerships.

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