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The underestimated value of marching backwards into the future

For an interaction designer not using the potential of a medium is horrible. There is this new medium with new a paradigm, new possibilities and you are using it the same way as the old medium. Let’s call it a transition period. McLuhan called it marching backwards into the future.

The value of the transition
For a designer there is nothing to gain in the transition period. It’s pretty frustrating to design the same old things on a new platform. We love using the new challenges a new medium gives us. And early adopters love designs and applications made for new media too.

And despite this there is incredible value in the transition. All thanks to the mental model. People are used in using something. And especially with digital media they have a mental model that tells them where they can find whatever they want. This is important when there is a new medium. They don’t understand the new medium, yet. But they do know how to navigate through your information as long it is structured the way it was on the old medium. And a large group of users will like it. See it as a beacon.


From paper to web
The newspaper where I work has this online image (pdf) based version. That looks exactly like the printed version, only online. From a web design perspective the interaction design is horrible. But it works for most users, since they have the mental model of the paper version. They know where to find what they are looking for. And this makes it easy to produce, and valuable for a large group of customers.

From television to web to iPhone
Dutch teletext is a very popular news service on television. TheY transported it to the web into an interface that doesn’t really make sense for the medium. And it was also transported to widgets and the iPhone. Creating a large group of very satisfied users.

From web to iPhone
The popular Dutch newswebsite is transporting the news website to the mobile sphere. Their readers except a similar experience on the iPhone as on the website.

From books to the Kindle
The Amazon Kindle and other eReader-devices are bringing the experience of reading books to the digital world. With a strong focus on recreating the same reading experience on this new device. In first instance they are neglecting (in communicating) the possibilities of these new devices that range from using hypernarrative structures, non-linear storytelling to importing the friends from your social network as characters in a book.

Why transporting the mental model to a new medium?
You slowly convert the mass from one medium to the other. It is often cheap to do and you will create a very popular service. It also gives you extra time and freedom to make something that is tailored to the medium. You earn some extra money and you are still connected with your users on the new medium.

Just some thoughts
How long can you stretch this? And would it for example make sense to convert the newspaper (paper version) to a pdf and make it viewable on your iPhone? Most readers will have the mental model of the paper version in mind and reading and browsing pdf-files on the iPhone gives a pretty good user experience.

Does it also work the other way around? For example the news website started on the web, can they transport the mental model used on the website to paper as well?

Do you have examples of successful companies that transported their content from one medium to another without altering the interface or way it works too much?