What is Abstraction in Interaction Design?

I'll polish this up in July

It’s all theory not technical or practical. So it shouldn’t matter how you make it secure, as long as you don’t approach things the wrong way

Now for my next example

In the olden days, typewriters did not have an enter key. You had to press Carriage Return to move the marker to the beginning of the current line then Line Feed to move it down to the next line that was directly below it .Or CF and LF for short . Years later someone combined them into one button as the technology advanced as CFLF

Then years later some companies decided to change the design of the typewriter, so you could no longer see the insertion marker going down when you pressed CFLF. In my opinion that was wrong.

In technology terminology (especially software) , when parts of the overall process or underlying mechanism of an action is hidden from the user, it is called abstraction .Here’s a good example of abstraction.

Look at iTunes 6. If you opened a playlist and clicked burn, it would instantly burn the playlist to a CD with no prior prompt. It would burn a CDin the Audio CD format that was 80 minutes maximum Did you know that iTunes can also burn a CD with 300 songs on a 700MB disc? You didn’t?

Well iTunes 6 doesn’t just not tell you but they also imply that there couldn’t possibly be any other options, by the way the CD instantly burns without any prior prompt (or questions)
You would have to go to the itunes settings to choose between

  • Audio CD
  • MP3 CD
  • Data CD

But how would you know that, if that option that would of been useful to lots of people at the time, is hidden or buried within the settings section of iTunes Preferences? Some people after burning a CD, would wonder why it’s not playing on their CD player, or why they can’t fit more songs on a 700MB CD, if it can fit more mp3 songs than 80 minutes at .cda format allows.

The obvious question is, how are people supposed to know, that iTunes can burn 3 different types of CD? Apple thinks that their users are too stupid to be informed of such options and also too stupid to understand the difference.

Windows Media Player doesn’t do that. Windows Media Player has the 3 types of CDs on the same toolbar as the burn button but on the left hand side

Also consider that, Windows Media Player will also warn you if you try to burn a CD that’s over 80 minutes to ask you if you want to instead burn an MP3 CD but with the caveat that some devices don’t support playback from it.iTunes will just say you’re over the 80 minutes and will not inform you that 2 other types of CD burning actually exists

In short, Apple has done abstraction and Microsoft hasn’t. Apple has hidden a SIGNIFICANT part of the burning process from its users, in a way that will disadvantage MILLIONS of people. There were millions of people who would use iTunes who would switch to Windows Media Player just to burn a CD because they didn’t know the settings page in the screenshot on iTunes existed

Going back to the typewriter example….

So back to the typewriter, some company designing them so you can’t see the insertion marker move when you press the CFLF key, that is wrong and bad usability. What if the insertion marker has something small stuck on it so it won’t move or that it’s diagonal so that the ink printed on the paper when the user types, is written in a diagonal line?

By having that abstraction, the user won’t know how to solve that problem and they will be lulled into a false sense of disarray, that their typewriter is faulty beyond repair
“I’ve moved the paper and I’ve moved the pins and the battery is fully charged and it’s still like that”


Of course some abstraction is good but total abstraction is bad You don’t need to see all the options when saving a pdf. Most people don’t care about the dpi (dots per inch) of a pdf as most people don’t publish books or send leaflets and magazines to printing presses.

But that iTunes burning was total abstraction.