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Author: Susan K. Soy
Title: Jay David Bolter and Diane Gromala's Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 2004

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Source: Jay David Bolter and Diane Gromala's Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency
Susan K. Soy

vol. 7, no. 2, August 2004
Article Type: Book Review

Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency

Susan K. Soy

Manager and Archivist
Austin History Center (Austin, Texas)

Bolter, Jay David and Gromala, Diane. Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2003.

Bolter and Gromala document significant pieces of digital art from the SIGGRAPH 2000 show while simultaneously exploring advances made over the past sixty years in computing in this book. Through their eyes and experiences with the Art Gallery presented at the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group, ACM SIGGRAPH Conference, readers gain insight into design thinking in the year 2000. Gromala was intimately involved in the curatorial aspects of the shows construction while Bolter, as an observer of the art and a scholar in the field of digital technology, lends his skills to chronicle the history of interactive design. They combine talents in this book (as they do in the classroom at the Georgia Institute of Technology where they sometimes co-teach), to document of the status of the digital arts at the start of a new century.

SIGGRAPH 2000 was the 27th International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques held in New Orleans, Louisana at the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center during July of 2000. Nearly 26,000 attendees experienced this conference that features papers and sessions on topics ranging from the use of color in web renderings to how we will engage with virtual reality in the 21st century. The Art Gallery in the conference center was meant to help attendees appreciate the many diverse ways that the interface can shape our experience. The resulting book comparing and contrasting a few of the experiences from the Art Gallery provides a lasting memoir of the lessons conveyed by the experience of moving through the gallery. The book is intentionally designed through typeface and placement of text and illustration to provoke a reflective experience within the reader. The letterform matters in this book and in some instances is distracting (to this reader), although it is clearly meant to encourage the reader to reflect on contexts. Certainly the points in the book can not replicate the experience of first hand viewing of digital art; however, it can document the first hand experience of others.

The pivotal concept of the book is embodied in the title of the book, Windows and Mirrors, meant to convey two differing perspectives. One perspective places the focus on seeing. We think of windows as things we look through to help frame our vision, and in fact, Windows has grown to have a particular association for many simply because the window is the metaphor selected by some unnamed designers of the Microsoft product. Bolter and Gromala refer to many of that inventive era as Structuralists. They classify Tim Berners-Lee, Mark Andreessen, Don Norman, and Jakob Nielson, for example, as Structuralists. For the Structuralist, the aim is transparency; to make the information available seamlessly, to make the computer a useful appliance to assist the user, and to be a channel for information transfer that is a natural extension and one that is easy to use. The second perspective is one depicted in the title of the book as the mirror. Using the mirror we see a reflection, we participate, the image moves and changes as we move and change, and we become part of the interface design. These authors contend that both perspectives, the Window (Structuralist) and the Mirror (Designer) can come together with digital art in the best of ways and that the natural tension presented by both views helps us experiment and develop better and more effective design strategies; strategies that generate a rhythm that oscillates between reflection and transparency. This design strategy incorporates both the window and the mirror.

Three points in this book are clearly outlined in bold face: (1) the computer has become a new medium, a new set of media forms; (2) to design a digital artifact is to design an experience; and (3) digital design should not try to be invisible. The new media form builds on the forms that have come before. It borrows on reality, reconfiguring and remediating what has come before. The computer as a media form is not a neutral item. It shapes the information it conveys and is shaped by the physical and cultural world in which it exists. This adaptive structuring results in new and changing rules, forms, and appliances. Today, for example, we are surrounded by devices that use sound, color, text, size, and shape to be useful to us. These are complex media that compete for our attention and are constantly demanding that we conform. At the same time, they quickly adapt to our demands to provide us with more and more varied devices; even devices in wearable media form. The authors emphasize that we will know when we are reaching a point of success when we achieve the fine-tuned rhythm where transparency and reflection are working together for the user's benefit.

This reviewer very much appreciates the retrospective examination that Bolter brings to the text and the appreciation that he shows for the ground breaking work of Alan Turing, Alan Kay, Douglas Engelbart, J. C. R. Licklider, and the many others who had great curiosity and vision. The many names of the digital artists who are listed in the Appendix to this book as contributors to SIGGRAPH 2000 also deserve our appreciation for helping us expand our horizons and create inventive views of ourselves in diverse settings.

This well-indexed book is a snapshot in time that chronicles the state of the media in the year 2000, illustrating the diversity and status of interface design art and thinking. The book invites us to experiment even further with ways to integrate digital art into our daily lives and to envision how it works well with science, speech, technology, engineering, psychology, and art. While the book documents the SIGGRAPH 2000 Art Gallery in traditional ways that do not compare to web sites or even memories of conference offerings, it does provides a durable and lasting record of the Art Gallery from this conference, descriptions of the work of the artists selected for exhibition, and the interpretations drawn from the informed and unique experiences of Bolter and Gromala. This is a book those contemplating exhibiting at SIGGRAPH must read and also stimulating reading for anyone working with Human Computer Interface design issues, web designers, graphic artists, and all people interested in effective communication using digital media.