The “See” and “Show” of User Interface Design

I didn’t realize it till today why I wasn’t able to find a decent multi-party game player gadget.

Today I realize that all the GUI is all about “See” and never “Show”.

If you were fond of Sanskrit grammar you will understand that all the UI is “aatmanepadee” and not “parasmaipadee“.

Going by Indian philosophical phrases, current UI is always “so-aham” [That is I] and never “tat-tavam-asi” [That is you]. It is like Nataraja holding a mirror in his hands.

In current UI, there is only one interface – what you see – and never what you want to show to others.

How can we achieve third party interface? Simple.

Imagine your phone, tablet or laptop to have two screens – with the other party sitting on the other side. The other side too may have input facilities – like a touch screen or a mouse or a keyboard – and probably a clipboard also.

You’d ask for the uses of such an interface. I can think of some scenarios:

  • When it comes to playing cards, you have some information (in your hands) and you show a part of that information to others. Now, show me an equivalent of that in the UI
  • PowerPoint(R) has a facility of adding notes to the slide – but it is too restricted. There is no paradigm shift that PowerPoint(R) offers
  • Cameras offer another angle. Just look at Apple’s design dilemma – should they have two cameras – One to “see what the camera holder sees” and another to “show how the camera holder looks like”? Whether it should behave like a web-cam or like a video camera?
  • Probably the same “ctrl+C” and “ctrl+X” may have one more destination than “ctrl+V” – on the “other’s view”
  • Application windows can be Opened/Closed. It can also be Minimized/Maximized/Restored/Sized/Moved. The second set of operations is limited to the user, it doesn’t say anything about the guest!
  • Logging is kind of this third party facing situation. Opening up stderr is like opening up another stdio. However, in the scenario I am describing here, stderr is not replaced
  • Communication applications have somewhat similar problem to handle – how would your web-page, mail or chat look like to the other party is a constant question in UI development community. However, the guest in those case is away in time or distance or both from the computer. In our case, we are talking of concurrent existence of the user and the guest
  • Take again the MVC paradigm. It talks of one “V”, “view”. It doesn’t talk about “Show” being different from “View”
  • Yet another view is offered by the projector interface in Lenovo desktops. When you switch your laptop to projector mode, it asks whether you want to use it for “Computer only”, “Duplicate”, “Extend” or “Projector only” mode. This in my view is the first serious awareness about the third party. You may like the guest to have the same view or use the same hardware to have more view or limit your thoughts to yourself or just use the guest’s resources


One of my colleagues, Arun P Y asked me “How about audio interface?”

I’d split the reply in two parts: One is auditory interface (output from the computer) and another is speech interface (input to the computer).

You’d agree that speech interface is a bit stretch anyway. It is in a broadcast medium and there is no privacy. [That is why I am a bit bearish on speech recognition and related sci-fi stuff. Did any sci-fi talk about the chaos that generated due to crying babies, honking drivers or simply a snooping third party around the speaker?]

Then remains auditory interface. Again, there are two different purposes: to hear and to tell.

His point was: asking the other party to wear earphones will kill the whole idea of this third party awareness.

I agree.

The idea is not to cover the world with leather. Idea is to wear shoes.

It should not be hurtful to wear a headphone and talk to a person. It would require you to imagine a scenario with six interactions:

  1. User to Guest – talk in broadcast medium
  2. Guest to User – talk in broadcast medium
  3. User to Computer – talk through microphone #1
  4. Computer to User – talk through speaker #1 (worn as a headphone)
  5. Guest to Computer – talk through microphone #2
  6. Computer to Guest – talk in broadcast medium or through headphone #2

Complicated, right? Yes. Dealing with the third party was never easy!


Now extending the logic of Arun, what about touch (tactile) interface? Third party touch recording, manipulation, transmission and reproduction could mean huge business!

What about olfactory interface? The difference between “smelling” and “wearing perfumes” could be hardly useful.

The same applies to the final sense, long ignored by hi-tech – taste!


Again, y0u may ask what about “fourth party”? I’d say, let us conquer the third party problem first. Let applications emerge. The problem solution is very simple then – multiple I/O with multiple views 🙂


In the next generation of UI design, more than

  • yeh goat naheen, yeh boat naheen” interface of Spice phones or
  • sixth sense magic of Pranav Mistry or
  • the mouse-less motion sensing of that Korean genius or
  • boundary-less-ness of Synergy or Multimouse
  • eye tracking from Gaze

… we need the “other guy’s view” ingrained.

Yes, we need to have two sets of teeth – one to show and another to chew.


Now the question is to readers – for what kind of (existing and future) applications do you think the difference between the user and the guest makes the most sense?


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