MS Researcher to Explore Human Side of Technology

New senior researcher Bill Buxton wants to add more user experience to the product design process.

Microsoft Corp. Monday announced the hiring of Bill Buxton, a leading computer scientist and designer specializing in the human aspects of technology, to work with Microsoft Research and assist on various projects in the companys research labs around the world.

Buxton, who will hold the title of senior researcher at Microsoft, brings a pedigree that includes research efforts at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), SGI, Alias|Wavefront (now Alias Systems Corp.) and other academic and commercial pursuits.

Buxton, a Canadian, said he has spent the last 30 years studying and observing how people use technology. He said that while it has become easy to predict what the technology of the future will be, it is not easy to determine how people are going to use that technology.

Meanwhile, Buxton said the decision to join Microsoft "was an easy decision" for him.

"I said where can I go and have the biggest chance to take the ideas Ive spent 30 years on and make a difference?"

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And although he said he had other offers, he chose Microsoft for a few reasons. One was because he knew and had collaborated with key people in Microsofts research and product groups.

Another reason was that, "Microsoft is one of the few places I could go and use all of my own ideas," as many of the patents for technologies he helped create at Xerox PARC and SGI are cross-licensed by Microsoft, he said.

However, although he said he has interest in many areas and projects at Microsoft, "I dont want to commit to anything prematurely," Buxton said. Yet, he said his primary areas of interest include research into pen-based computing, technology for entertainment, technology targeting education and mobile technology.

"Im taking six months to get to know the company," he said. Indeed, Buxton will start a four-month residency in Microsofts Cambridge, England lab beginning next month.

One of the things hell be focusing on there is electronic whiteboarding, he said.

Buxton said one of the strengths he acquired at Xerox PARC "involved bridging between different parts of the company. For instance, pen-based computing is distributed throughout Microsoft. Perhaps I could add some glue here or there."

But, overall, "I am really, really interested and perplexed by the lack of general success in building new products in-house," Buxton said.

"A lot of growth is by way of acquisition. But the whole area of how you design products is what Im looking at," he added.

Moreover, Buxton said product development is dominated by engineering and not enough attention is focused on pre-production or design. He said he is an advocate of an "experiential" view of design.

"What we need to do is start changing the perspective so that what we design is the experience—not just whats in the box."

One of the personal interests for Buxton has been "looking at the role of sketching in the design process," he said. "How do you sketch experience," he said.

Next Page: Connecting products.