It’s great to look at early designs, when buttons were still brand new, and folks were still coming to terms with an action that could trigger an arbitrary amount of work. We think of a button press as the work itself, launching the missile or punching the letter, whatever, not simply completing the circuit that joins the actual cause (mechanical or electrical energy) to the effect. The button has become a by-word for easy. The 1960s sci-fi books I’ve read, when they want to express the maximum amount of crazy future thinking, talk about relays: devices that convert a button press to an action in a circuit that can do anything at all. Yet we barely think about relays now, or how incredible buttons are. When did buttons stop being modern?
(And, really, were they ever modern? A button on a shirt joins two pieces of cloth with effort far less than sewing, and it can be undone, and the physical object provides a focus for interaction too, the affordance that these things can be joined. Perhaps the name and job of “button” gets continually recycled, with only the physical implementation changing over the years.)
On a similar note:
I really enjoy collections of single design elements. Timo Arnall has written The dashed line in use, making the (dashed line) connection between his use of this element in indicating RFID interactions and how it occurs in instruction manuals, paths, graphs, as ellipsis… He also talks about how the line indicates a seam, a visible join between two things that still maintains the two things as separate.
The dashed line for RFID is doubly appropriate first because the field is invisible and, second, because the indicated interaction hasn’t happened yet–it exists only in potential.
Is there a dashed line to be drawn between Timo’s work and the history of the button?