A fifth of vodka

Today I was visiting the MIT Media Lab, mainly to talk with Mitch Resnick and Marvin Minsky about programming without math. While I was there, I got a demo from a grad student about a multitouch table interface he’s been developing. He told me he’d discovered that the simpler he made his interfaces, the more people seemed to like them. We discussed the need for very natural interfaces that make the most intuitive sense to people. Even if such interfaces have less functionality than the fanciest interfaces, people greatly prefer them.

At one point in the conversation I found myself saying that interfaces should pass the fifth of vodka test. “What’s that?” the student asked. I explained that the best interfaces are the ones that would still work after the user has drunk an entire fifth of vodka. The student seemed somewhat surprised to hear of such a thing, but he agreed that this is indeed an excellent test, one that seems to get at the essence of things. For example, the Apple iPhone passes with flying colors, whereas it’s hard to think of any software by Microsoft that would pass the fifth of vodka test.

So how long had this test been around? Well actually it hadn’t — I just made it up that moment. Still, I think there’s something to it. For example, it could be interesting to see how well the fifth of vodka test works in practice. Then again, I can foresee some practical problems. For one thing, I imagine it would be very difficult for a study validating such a test to get funding from the National Science Foundation.

If you see what I mean.

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