Partial Bibliography of Magic in User Experience Design

The recent interest (thank you Engadget, BoingBoing, Digg, and the rest!) in my recent magic wand prototype led me to think it may be good idea to start making a bibliography of magic as user interface. Adrian McEwen articulates the broader implication of my thoughts well in this blog entry inspired by my wand piece:

[The desktop metaphor] is becoming increasingly stretched, as we need more powerful ways to visualize and manipulate data, and particularly as computing power bleeds out of the PC and into the world around us. With ubiquitous computing making our "intelligent devices" more specialised, the requirement to have their interface conform to a general-purpose workspace such as the desktop becomes less and less desirable.

I agree, obviously, and he said it better (and more succinctly ;-) than I would have. Magic as an alternative UI metaphor has appeared a number of times in HCI writing in the last 20 years, talked-about by many of the greats in the field. Now we can actually implement some of it, I figured it may be useful to go back and see what has been written about it in the past. Here is a list of publications that have talked about magic or enchantment in HCI contexts. It's by no means exhaustive, but it's what I could find in an evening back in April using Google and chatting with Ben and Liz.

Please feel free to email me or post additions to this list in the comments. The field is big and "magic" is a common word used to describe all kinds of situations, so I probably missed some big ones.

[UPDATE: Thanks to Eoin Brazil for the David West reference, which in turn references Vernor Vinge's True Names, which I've also included here.]
[6/8/06: I wrote a small addendum to this list]
[10/10/06: Added Levy and Raskin references; thanks Tod and Cassidy!]
[10/19/06: Added Schmitz, et al and Mattsson]
[11/20/06: Added Tiplady and Twist]
[11/22/06: Corrected Tog reference; thanks Chris!]
[11/29/06: Added Balagas, et al, and Walz, et al.]
[12/1/06: Added Davis, though I feel it's not as design focused as I really want to go, but I do want to acknowledge that it was an early hypothesis of role technology plays in a changing society. There are many history and philosophy of science documents that I could cite if I continued down this path, but I'll include them sparingly.]
[12/22/06: I turned off comments because this post is getting too much spam. If you want comment on this, send me email at blog c/o this blog. Thanks.]
[1/3/07: Added Nolan]
[2/9/07: Added Center for Tactical Magic, thanks Jordan!]
[1/8/08: Added Barton, Pierce; Hinske, Langheinrich; Gross,Eisenberg; Smith, Lewi]
[1/12/08: Added Weston, Barney]
[3/30/08: Added Wilson--thanks Jeff!]
[5/9/08: Added Cheok, Nguyen, et al]
[11/16/08: Added Tabor, Crampton-Smith, Steiner]

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I just came across this: Peter Lamont and Richard Wiseman, "Magic in Theory: An Introduction to the Theoretical and Psychological Elements of Conjuring" ... Wiseman is a psychologist who used to be a conjurer.

Also the Tog ref should be

Toganizzini, B. (1993) "Principles, Techniques and Ethics of Stage Magic and Their Application to Human Interface Design". Proceedings of INTERCHI'93, 24-29 April 1993. ACM: New York. pp355-362.



Hi Mike,
you may wish to have a look at some of the work of the psychologist and anthropologist Pascal Boyer at Washington University in St Louis:

Boyer has a series of experiments in which he shows that the 'memorability' of an experience is related to:
a) how different it is to one's present experience;
b) how inferentially rich it is (what follows from it)
As Boyer himself recognizes, a lot of magic is like that: a magic wand is very different from anything else you've seen and you immediately recognize that you can do a zillion things with it.

What a delightful list of publications! I especially love Lawler's "Metaphors We Compute By." And I love Dr. David West's twist on Arthur C. Clarke: "If a technology is not magical it is insufficiently advanced."

Here is another more software than ID / HCI paper on Magic by David West from the Onward track at Oopsla in 2002. It is online pages 42-28.




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Recent Comments

  • Chris Hand: I just came across this: Peter Lamont and Richard Wiseman, read more
  • Stefano Bertolo: Hi Mike, you may wish to have a look at read more
  • Craig: What a delightful list of publications! I especially love Lawler's read more
  • Eoin Brazil: Here is another more software than ID / HCI paper read more

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