The Avatar is NOT the User

A lot of effort goes into the user interface of laptops these days – but there appears to be a big disconnect in the thinking.

The effort goes into screen layout and display and reaction to the use of input devices – all the electronic stuff. What a pity the same effort isn’t going into design of the physical machine. After all, the user is a person interfacing with a physical device, not a dematerialised avatar.

These thoughts came as the DeliveryDemon alternated between two laptops – a five year old, small footprint, lightweight laptop and a rather more modern larger laptop which doubles as an office desktop.

The right side of the small machine is taken up by the CD reader, flush with the side of the machine and operated by a button above the keyboard. At the back of the left side is a USB slot, well out of the mouse space of a left handed user. Towards the front of the left side is another USB slot with a rather tacky plastic cover. While not a problem for right handed users, a device in this slot would tend to impinge on a left handed user’s mouse area. Apart from this, the physical interface is quite well designed, taking into account the limited physical size of the machine.

With the larger and more modern machine, it’s a very different story. Despite the extra space available, little if any thought has gone into the physical aspects of the user interface. The USB ports are to the front of the right hand side, and USB cable connections create a mouse no-go zone for about 5 inches to the side of the machine. Given the size of the machine, that makes the keyboard / mouse area about 24 inches wide, with a 6 inch dead area between keyboard and mouse.

Worse still, USB cable connections make the DVD drive inaccessible, as the cables foul the opening area, unless the user either trails the cables across the front of the machine, or reorganises every workspace to take account of the deficiencies of the laptop design.

Most of the population, like the DeliveryDemon, are right handed, which begs the question of why the much less frequently used access points are concentrated on the left side of the machine while the right side is a messy clutter.

Vaio sells itself on smooth design concepts. The DeliveryDemon thinks it’s about time they put just a bit more effort into delivery of a well-designed physical interface.

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