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American Society of Landscape Architects


January 2008 Issue

Designing with Both Hands
New input devices allow designers to interact more intuitively with a computer screen.

By Mark Lindhult, FASLA, and Avinash Srivastava

Desigining with Both Hands

The human body has 256 joints, and 54 of them are in the hands. Designers use this hand dexterity to draw and sketch, yet most landscape architects interact with the computer using a mouse, which essentially freezes these joints in one position. For as long as computers have been a part of landscape architectural practice, designers have longed for a more intuitive way of interacting with the computer.

The mouse was invented back in 1965 and took 30 years to become a ubiquitous input device for all personal desktop computers. Despite its widespread use in CAD, GIS, and a host of illustration/rendering programs, it has hand-eye coordination, scaling, and other issues. Perhaps it’s time to look to the next generation of input devices. Bill Buxton, an innovator in user interfaces, has written that “the vast majority of touch surfaces deployed are single touch. If you can only manipulate one point, regardless of with a mouse, touch screen, joystick, trackball, etc., you are restricted to the gestural vocabulary of a fruit fly. We were given multiple limbs for a reason. It is nice to be able to take advantage of them.”

A new approach called “multitouch” computing may very well allow designers to expand their gestural vocabularies considerably. Like Tom Cruise in the movie Minority Report, users may use both hands to manipulate graphics, images, or text in a truly intuitive way. The future trends in computing point to the need for this type of interactive device that allows designers to directly interact with their ideas. Multitouch may be the answer that we are looking for, and in the meantime some technologies such as interactive whiteboards and tablet PCs (see “Technology You Can Use Now,” page 86) can be useful to landscape architects.

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