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The loupe in user interfaces

One of the worst limitations of user interfaces is the low resolution of video displays. I'm interested in ways of overcoming that limitation.

1) The Mac OS X dock has a wonderful magnification feature.

2) In a similar vein, this applet uses magnification to eliminate scroll bars in a list box.

This method does have one drawback: the first few items are illegible until the cursor highlights it, but in my opinion that is outweighed by the convenience of not having to scroll.

3) ThumbsPlus, an excellent graphics viewer and cataloger, has a loupe feature in the new version. Press 'q' while viewing an image, and the portion over the cursor is magnified.

4) The new version of OS X has Expose; a demonstration applet is available here (click on the 'try it out' icon).


Magnification can be a powerful tool. I think it is certainly better than many alternatives: reduced detail, sequential display, or scrolling come to mind.

An analogy could be made with the human eye (only a small portion of our eyes can see much detail; much of our field of view is only good at detecting movement), but I am leery of computer-to-human analogies.


Does anyone have any other examples, or insights?

-- David Person (email)

Raskin's ZoomWorld

In his book The Humane Interface the creator of Apple Macintosh Jef Raskin describes a new navigation interface he calls ZoomWorld.

Raskin compares current navigation interfaces to a maze:

If you wanted to design a navigation scheme intended to confuse you might begin by making the interface mazelike. The maze would put you in a little room with a number of doors leading this way and that. The doors' labels are usually short, cryptic or iconic, and they may change or disappear, depending on where you've been. You cannot see what is on the other side of a door except by going through it, and when you have gone through, you may or may not be able to see the room you've just left...

... The antithesis of a maze is a situation in which you can see your goal and the path to get there, one that preserves your sense of location while under way, making it equaly easy to get back.

Enter ZoomWorld:

... ZoomWorld ... is based on the idea that you have access to an infinite plane of information having infinite resolution. The plane is ZoomWorld. Everything you can access is displayed somewhere on ZoomWorld ...

To see more of ZoomWorld, you think of yourself as flying higher and higher above it. To look at a particular item, you dive down to it...

... A footnote can be more than just a reference. You can zoom in to the entire referenced work. Zooming here is functioning like a link, except that to get back to the main discussion, you zoom out; you do not have to keep a trail of where you have been. To make it easy to find a set of documents, the documents themselves can be arranged in a distinctive pattern that is visible when zoomed out. A page with very large lettering can be seen while zoomed out and used as a title.

-- Branimir Dolicki (email)

The Opera browser has a built in zoom function.

-- Jeffrey Berg (email)

Zomit: A Zoomable User Interface

Try the Java demos of Zomit: A Zoomable User Interface .

It looks like some careful thinking went into this. Mouse gestures starting in pie menus ("flow menus") control zooming, panning, and creation of new types of views. Some regions are special and offer views or links to the data. There's even a zoomable "where am I?" context view, which thoughtfully fades the main view the further one zooms out the (temporary) context view.

One of the demo data sets offers a genome to browse; one can smoothly zoom from chromosomes to genes to genetic sequence!

-- Barry Isralewitz (email)

Have you considered populating your machine with multiple video adapters to increase your viewable desktop without sacrificing your resolution? I have two monitors attached to my workstation that display a contiguous desktop. I don't know if the Mac will support this but I would be surprised if it didn't.

-- David Montgomery (email)

David: I use two monitors, each set at a resolution of 1600x1200, for a total desktop of 3200x1200. It is wonderful and really helps productivity.

Today the New York TImes called Exposé "the biggest graphical breakthrough that operating systems have achieved in years." [link updated March 2005]

-- David Person (email)

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