Chris Peters's Blog

Book Review: Leonardo's Laptop

April 19, 2005

I am grateful that I stumbled across Ben Shneiderman. I could tell from his speech I attended at The Ohio State University that he is a visionary, almost to levels of absurdity. But this works very well for him.

After my first reading of Leonardo’s Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies, I now realize that it is worth another read. The book covers the largest paradigm shift the world of computing has ever faced—the shift from the old computing to the new computing. Those who do not take notice to this paradigm shift will ultimately find themselves competing against a pool of resources that is not in as high of demand as other pools.

Shneiderman is dead on with his definition of this paradigm shift. The old computing was about how many megahertz a computer was powered by and how computers will be able to replace human roles in everyday tasks. The new computing is about what humans can do with computers and how computers will be able to empower human roles in everyday tasks. Shneiderman is a great advocate for the world of Computer-Human Interaction, and he challenges developers and everyday users alike to demand more out of what humans can do with computers.

Using Leonardo da Vinci as a muse (focusing on the artist’s diverse range of interconnected interests in art and science), Shneiderman often imagines how humans will be able to use computers to collect, relate, create, and donate information to different communities. He dedicates a large portion of the book to applying these methods to education, medicine, business, and government.

Anyone involved in studying usability will sympathize with Shneiderman’s pointing out that the practice is all about fighting an uphill battle. I see many supporters of the old computing in my everday life who aren’t interested in putting in the extra work that is required in creating great experiences with technology. But the battle is a little bit easier with a great coach like Shneiderman.

Written by Chris Peters, your friendly neighborhood digital marketing professional with over 20 years of experience of web design, programming, SEO, and marketing.