Bill Buxton has spent most of his career getting between humans and computers. While his initial focus was on music and digital instruments, that eventually led to an interest in human-computer interaction, and pioneering work with multitouch systems and other user interfaces. He worked with the famed hotbed of innovation Xerox PARC in the late 1980s and early 90s, and was later Chief Scientist for software firm Alias Wavefront before claiming the same title at SGI Inc. when that company acquired the former in 1995. After a time running his own Toronto-based design and consulting firm, he moved on to Microsoft Research in 2005, where he continues to serve as the organization’s Principal Researcher.
We recently had a chance to pick his brain and get his thoughts on a range of issues, including state of design at Microsoft, the future of natural user interfaces, and whether we’re really entering a “post-PC” era.
Your title at Microsoft is Principal Researcher. Can you explain a bit what that entails? What is your day-to-day like?
Perhaps the best way to describe work-a-day life is “varied.” Within MSR, we have a fair bit of flexibility in terms of choosing how and where we spend our time. We all publish work in peer-reviewed scientific literature. I also spend a chunk of time interacting with different groups, often in other MSR labs — especially MSRC in Cambridge UK, and MSRA in Beijing as well as with the product groups on tech envisioning and problem solving. Finally, I spend a fair bit of time on outward facing activities – speaking at conferences, visiting companies of interest, and especially engaging with students at various universities. My rule for success in such ventures is that I learn as much from the students and companies, as they do for me. I love this part of my job. (Actually, I love almost all of it!)
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