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About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design by David Cronin, Robert Reimann, Alan Cooper

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Chapter 19. Pointing, Selecting, and Direct Manipulation

Modern graphical user interfaces are founded on the concept of direct manipulation of graphical objects on the screen: buttons, sliders, and other function controls, as well as icons and other representations of data objects. The ability to choose and modify objects on the screen is fundamental to the interfaces we design today. But to perform these manipulations, we also require input mechanisms that give us the flexibility to do so. This chapter discusses both the basics of direct manipulation and the various devices that have been employed to make such manipulation possible.

Direct Manipulation

In 1974, Ben Shneiderman coined the term direct manipulation to describe an interface design strategy consisting of three important components:

  • Visual representation of the objects that an application is concerned with

  • Visible and gestural mechanisms for acting upon these objects (as opposed to text commands)

  • Immediately visible results of these actions

A less rigorous definition would say that direct manipulation is clicking and dragging things, and although this is true, it can easily miss the point that Shneiderman subtly makes. Notice that two of his three points concern the visual feedback the program offers to users. It might be more accurate to call it “visual manipulation” because of the importance of what users see during the process. Unfortunately, many attempts at direct-manipulation idioms are implemented without adequate visual ...

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