Interface Tips from Pablo Picasso and Google

"Good artists copy, great artists steal." - Pablo Picasso Great art always draws upon deep images which are familiar to us on a fundamental level.  I'm certainly not the first to note that Picasso was not only a genius who could craft perfect drawings in his early teens, and painted almost every day ferociously for almost ninety years, he was also a visual omnivore who knew how to find the deep roots of art in all cultures and fused it brilliantly into his work.  He did not so much "see" as "consume" other's art and it showed.  Many have pointed out that Les Demoiselles d'Avignon depicts those naked French bathers with faces inspired by African masks, not Parisian fashion.  As you look at his paintings you experience a tour of shapes and images you did not know already occupy prime space in your own brain and heart.  In thinking through the power of such imagery, I'm reminded of the time I visited Freud's London home which was adored - as was his office in Vienna - with totems from all over the world.  Like Picasso, Freud was interested in those totemic images handed down to us over the ages.

It is fair to say that few of today's "interfaces" utilize some parts of this nascent deep structure, and I'd like to hold out one that does: the map.  The "map" is the underpinning of how we see the world, as Richard Saul Wurman has pointed out.  Forward and back buttons are totems too as are home and history.  But, of all of them the map is to my eye the most visceral - because in the marketspace of digital reality, we don't know where "east" is and if your interface can make clear to the user where they "are" - it is very comforting.  When Google announced in Google Earth version 5.0 that they were adding detail to the ocean, the spokesperson said something like, "We want to make Google Earth the best story telling platform."  Wow.  What a cool idea.  The virtual "earth" as a comprehensive story telling platform - now that's deep structure"¦

At the risk of leaping into implications with an egregiously callous connection to commercialism, it is no wonder that cell phone companies are utilizing "location" as a new way to organize info.  It is the most natural, complete, and facile integration point for how humans interact with virtual space.  We know from other research we have conducted that about 10% of the economy is aimed at creating demand for new products and services (approximately $1.3 trillion of our $13 trillion economy is spent on advertising, promotion, inside sales, etc.).  And, as we get new tools that are truly location and context aware, much of that $1.3 trillion will flow to that interface point - because there is nothing more immediate than helping someone find and orient themselves to the possible services, purchases, fun, friends, etc.  We are only at the beginning and the NY Times had a recent article that outlines some current services available.

More broadly, how many firms have figured out how to tap this deep structure of the map?  Despite the fact that it is the easiest way to organize information, and those who do will find its power compelling for customer and employees alike - few have done anything about it.

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