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2000.09.05. - Matthew Fuller, It looks like you're writing a letter:

Subject: It looks like you're writing a letter: Microsoft Word
From: matthew fuller
Date: Tue, 5 Sep 2000 13:28:51 +0100

It looks like you're writing a letter: Microsoft Word

Matthew Fuller
matt@axia.demon.co.uk

A recent film has one character blown to death at their keyboard. Underneath the desk they sit at is a bomb controlled by a keystroke counter. When the number of taps on the keyboard drops below a certain number, off goes the explosive. A real innovation in the switching system the bomb uses is that it is tied into the grammar check in Microsoft Word. The victim is unable to keep tapping away at the same key until help arrives. They have to keep composing grammatically correct sentences, line after line, through the cramp in their fingers.

Needless to say, knowing this is both a sure wellspring of verbiage and a scriptwriter's shortcut to bathos, they compose a last letter to their loved ones. Eventually though, the agrammaticality of their emotions or of tiredness sprawls out of even these second guessed finger-tips and as a green line appears under a patiently panicked phrase, up they go.

This lot is being written with every toolbar visible, every feature enabled. One third of the screen, a large one, is taken up with grey toolbars pocked with icons. There is a constant clatter of audio feedback clicking, shuffling and chiming as the user's attention is pulled away from putting together a piece of writing into the manufacture of the text as a perfectly primped document. As you read, understand that these words are to appear against a background fill effect of white, grey-veined marble.

Microsoft Word is part of a larger package, Office which contains Excel, a financial spreadsheet program; Powerpoint, the digitised answer to the glory of the Over Head Projector; an array of bits and bobs including low-level code generators for Visual Basic and phpL1 and some stunning clip art.

If, contra McLuhan, "A society is defined by its amalgamates, not by its tools"2 then Office is an attempt to pre-empt this amalgamation by not only providing what rationalist programmers are content to describe merely as tools but also the paths between them, how they intermix, and the boundaries and correlations between their different functions, the objects they work on and the users that they amalgamate with.

All word processing programs exist at the threshold between the public world of the document and those of the user. These worlds may be subject to non-disclosure agreements; readying for publication; hype into new domains of intensity or dumbness; subject to technical codes of practice or house style; meeting or skirting round deadlines; weedling or speeding... How does Word meet, detour or expand these drives, norms and codes in writing?

Like much else, word processing has escaped from its original centralised, hierarchically positioned place within large organisations and single-purpose computers3. It has also stayed put, shifting things about in the workplace, but also being trained there. And what it changes into at work effects how it is used, what it allows to be done, outside of work. The work of literary writing and the task of data-entry share the same conceptual and performative environment, as do the journalist and the phpL coder. The history of literacy is full of instances of technologies of writing taking themselves without consent from structures aimed at containing them - something which at the same time as it opens things up instantiates new norms and demands, from reading the bible to the requirement to complete tax statements. At each new threshold, heresy and fraud are opened up as possibilities, but at the same time are forced to operate on one more terrain at once.

Microsoft Office slots into the all-you'll-ever-need-for-the-home-office shelf in the software supermarket with all the placing that only those who own the store can manage. There's bound to be some scintillating demographics on exactly who uses the software and how tucked into the data-storage of some go-gotten demi-god somewhere on a Seattle corridor laying out exactly how Microsoft project patterns of work and use for their software, what tools will be needed to meet the challenges of a new era of productivity. But these aren't the clues we have to go on. What we do have in order to discover what kind of user is being imagined and put into place is the mountain of material the program presents. Since its early versions Word has swollen like a drowned and drifting cow. The menu bar has stretched to twelve items, the number of toolbars to eighteen. Don a white coat, open a calculator, multiply these two figures, then cube them and you get a scientifical idea of the extent of the domain which Word now covers.

According to James Gleick, features are included in Word with, "Little more purpose than to persuade the trade press to add one more 'Yes' to the feature-comparison charts that always accompany word-processor roundups"4. In Taylorist design, the majority of Computer Human Interface as practised today, the user or worker or soldier appears only as a subsystem whose efficiency and therefore profitability can be increased by better designed tools. Whilst, according to John Hewitt, 'The disappearance of the worker has, in fact, been an aspect of most design theory since Morris"5 what this means contemporarily is that the disappearance of the worker is best achieved by the direct subsumption of all their potentiality within the apparatus of work.

The volume of features in Word is often represented as a disastrous excess, but this is excess fitted up as standard. What draws the user to the site of their own special disappearance is possibly even the contrary drive for the disappearance of work in autonomous behaviour as an ideal of free work:

"We can call someone autonomous when s/he conceives and carries out a personal project whose goals s/he has invented and whose criteria for success are not socially predetermined."6

Gorz's definition of autonomous labour provides a useable rule of thumb, a workable trope for autonomy which is conflictual and negotiated rather than its more fantastically 'independent' variant.=20 As a device it allows us to understand that a program such as Word doesn't deny autonomous work or the desire for it, but parasites it, corrals and rides it at the same time as entering into an arrangement of simultaneous recomposition of scope.

The surplus feature mountain warehoused in your computer is stored against the possibility of your ever needing it, against the possibility of the user's self expanding, or changing purpose or data-type. Whilst the ways which Word is actually used by any one individual or work practice may only be very narrow sections of its entire capability, like all software of its kind there is a dramatic break with that area of the Taylorist model of work which involves strict division of labour in the actual form of the equipment (this is usually achieved by system management software and by work practices).

In comparison to the disappearable production lined individual, here the worker is expected to encompass and internalise knowledge of the entire application which replaces it and to be able to roam about, freely choosing their tools and their job. The quandary for the self which Foucault presents:

"How does one govern oneself by performing actions in which one is oneself the object of those actions, the domain in which they are applied, the instrument to which they have recourse and the subject which acts"7 is at once doubled for the self whose actions, object, domain and instrument are amalgamated with a material-semiotic sensorium - a program - whose entanglements and interrelations are so multifarious. (For at least one accredited philosopher founding an enquiry into word processing the problem is far worse: "The anxiety of loosing a hold on professional integrity and sinking into popular culture must be restrained for the sake of thinking out a phenomenon we are now living through and in which we are participating."8)

The feature mountain refutes theories of hardware determination of software at the same time as it makes a full victimising incorporation of the user into the application laughably implausible. It is again as an amalgamate - a subset of those both within and connected to the 'universal machine' - that it deserves to be worked over. The threshold that it composes also incorporate, as well as the obvious economic factors, compositional articulations produced by: hardware capabilities and innovation; developments in programming languages and technique - as well as those of the structuring and organisation of such work; the propensity of digital technologies to have arranged some form of connection to the networks. All of these factors of course intermesh along with the various corporate instruments used to determine and decide upon their various and relative importance.

Objects in their place

Word is, with the rest of Office, put together using object oriented programming. A program is sectioned up into objects - a unique unchanging entity within the program complete with definitions of data and operations which it is permitted to carry out. Objects can pass messages between one another as well as being able to make requests on other objects. Objects have a sense of how data 'behaves', therefore each object is responsible for checking the validity and 'sensibility' of the data that it is working with. As a result, programs made using this approach are generally more flexible in their ability to accommodate a variety of data types and processes. The inner workings of the object, and interrelations between objects, are, as with most programs, hidden from the user. However, some inkling of their function can be gathered from what is visible at the interface and in use - in the division of the tools up into toolbars and in the various ways in which tools are shown to be able or not able to work on specific pieces of data.

The relative reliability of this approach to programming makes it particularly suitable for constructing programs that are built on version by version rather than renewed. Its way of handling different forms of data and activity thus has to be thoroughly coherent at all stages. Crucially for Office, this is what allows objects to be used across seemingly separate applications. The use of toolbars in Word is not only predetermined by the inherent qualities of object oriented software but by Microsoft's approach to using it. The productive part of the company is structured into work teams with closely defined domains of expertise and function responsible for each class of object - for instance, each toolbar.

The user becomes an object, but at a peculiar position in the hierarchy of others. It is excluded from the internal transmission of information, and instead allocated representations of elements of this information as interface. This information is allocated on the basis of how closely it corresponds to the 'tasks' that users have come into composition with the software to perform. The screen is divided up into little counters clustered into groups, each of which is oriented to a particular task. Each task may then break down into a hierarchy of sub-tasks or further specifications as to the description of the task.=20 The closed world of objects and other objects interrelated according to strict protocols is visible on screen as changes in data-state or in the mode of the program. Further interrogability of the program is denied. This is not something specific to Word, and it cannot necessarily be described as problematic but it does point to a direction in which objects could be developed with more independence from the tasks they are locked into. For instance, there is a strict division between Clip Art and Word Art in Word with the toolbar of each only able to make changes in brightness and contrast to the material of the other. There is an assumption built into toolbars that they accomplish a certain wholeness in circumscribing the task that they construct or that is translated by them into the realm of objects.

How are the tasks and the objects that compose them ordered? Several tools are present in more than one toolbar, others can only be accessed several layers deep into menu hierarchies. 'Animated text' for instance, a function which (whilst unable to be converted into a web documented by Saving as phpL) makes Netscape's < tag look classy, allows you to add a little bit of fairyland to your text with sparkling pixels and flickering borders. In order to animate text the user must choose 'Format' from the menu bar, select the option to format 'Fonts', and then choose the 'Animation' level from the three types of font formatting available. To many users it is likely that this option should be so far down a choice tree that it drops off completely. Its relative silliness in the context of a 'serious' work application however makes it a good example of not only how tasks are ordered, but also in the conventional attacks on Word and most recent mass-market software for being bloated with features, what is considered to be either useful or gratuitous. Font animation is not available directly from any toolbar, whilst the ability to specify the font, its point size and whether it is bold, italic or underlined is deemed to be so necessary that it is included in both the 'Formatting' and 'Ribbon' toolbars. This of course has serious implications for the quality of the interface, but also for how Word is composed as an amalgamate, what forces and drives it is opened up to in order to shape its prioritisation of various events, tasks, objects, data-types and uses.

It would be possible to analyse a piece of software on the basis of procedurally documenting every point which constitutes an event, to record the points at which we move from one state to another or at which boundaries are produced to certain behaviours, not merely within modes but at every level of the software and begin to extrapolate out, following through, from installation, to licensing agreement, to splash screen and on into the hierarchy of functions of the actual program, describing at each point, at each moment that constituted an event, how it functioned as part of a series of closely interlocking fields such as processor characteristics, operating systems, models of user behaviour, work organisation, qualities of certain algorithms, the relative status of various document or file forms (for instance, the recent half-botched attempt to incorporate phpL generation), the availability of class libraries of already written code and more or less densely determinant ones such as markets, forms of copyright, aesthetic methodologies or trends and so on. Equally an application, especially one intent on sucking all potential functions towards it, can be interrogated on the basis of those functions which are absent from it. For instance, which models of 'work' have informed Word to the extent that the types of text management that it encompasses have not included such simple features as automated alphabetical ordering of list items or the ability to produce combinatorial poetry as easily as 'Word Art'.

H-E-L-L-P

One futile place to resort to for answers to such enquiries would be the various types of Help that Word places at the disposal of the user. There are five forms of help available from the application. Balloon Help on the Mac is perhaps the simplest. On a simple roll-over from the mouse on a menu item or interface component a speech-bubble appears next to the cursor to give a short description of its use and function. Working on a similar basis, leaving the cursor on any of the tool icons will simply display the name of a tool. With these two, most useful aspects of the Help in Word begin and end.

The Help menu also provides a link to initiate Explorer (whether it is your specified preferred browser or not) to open the advice section of Microsoft's site. The other major aspect of Help is Microsoft Word Help. This is a simple archive of information held together by an index and hypertextual linkages between different areas of the documentation. Whilst it is possible to browse this resource and find information, if you want specific information it largely helps to already know precisely what you require help about as the user already has to be able to name the function in order to describe it to the help's search facility and thus find the information - especially since Microsoft often appears to use apparently 'simplified' versions of generally used words - such as 'jumps' in stead of hyperlinks, both instead of and alongside the more common term. Whilst there may be a vast amount of data in the various layers of Help to edify users with a spare hour or so it is worse then useless to users who need a particular element of information in order to allow them to achieve what they want to do straight away.

Microsoft Word Help is also where you end up if you fall for the ruse of accepting help from the Office Assistant. Rocking on its heels, whistling, getting rubik, turning into a filing cabinet, the version for Apple computers is an economically and cutely animated Mac Plus with Disney vermin legs. Windows users get a paperclip. Rather than offer actual help, this takes the proposition of the digital assistant, the low-grade Artificial Intelligence that will in the permanently rained-off future help the user make those crucial tabulation decisions, but settles for kewtness over function. The narrow bandwidth of the solely language based Turing test is side-stepped with animations on the assumption that if enough body-language is thrown within a rectangle of a few hundred pixels, users are going to grant it the same assumed high-informational content that they transferred to jittery Cu-See-Me pornos. This feigned step up the evolutionary ladder towards symbiotic intelligence is given up on a couple of branches down the choice tree when the user actually tries to get help from the assistant and is dumped back in the disastrous jargon-swamp of Word Help which is what it automatically cuts to. Office Assistant will do a few things off its own bat if you tell it to in Preferences. But its subsequent cheery dosing of the user's eyeballs with timely Tips about using features, the mouse, keyboard shortcuts, means that to use Word without the winsome little pixie switched firmly off is to be constantly prodded in the ribs, to have your ears twisted to attention, to be told off. School will never end.

Word processing

Sun Microsystems' Scott McNeally, responding to Microsoft's attempt to wreck the cross-platform capability of Java claimed that they were aiming at controlling the "Written and spoken language of the digital age"9. Java's innovation was in producing a way of leap-frogging operating systems to develop a form of computing more in tune with networks than with isolated machines. Something that all software bound by the desktop metaphor has yet to do. McNeally's claim conflates two forms of language however, the formal and the natural.=20 It rhetorically implies that the former should have access to the same rights of 'freedom of speech' as the latter. In a familiar ploy for U.S. business, Sun plays the underdog to Microsoft over what was essentially a conflict over whose version of a standard should prevail.

However, the two forms of language are becoming increasingly close. The most obvious similarity is that before being compiled, code is written text, characters in a row, that is at the same time a machine. It exists both in a two dimensional and a multidimensional processual space. This dual quality of a program feeds over into the machinery of language and suggests that both the language of Word itself and the kinds of language it machines deserve scrutiny.

Just as freedom of speech is a convenient myth under which something else entirely can safely be left to occur, the ideal of a word processor is that it creates an enunciative framework that remains the same whether what is being written is a love letter or a tax return.=20 What kind of language is the language of Word? The nomenclature and organisational norms of Microsoft Projects is already beginning to effect the way people think about business reduced to a stuttering sequence of Action Points, Outcomes and milestones. Does the compulsorily informal mode of addressing co-workers that prevails in the Microsoft corporation feed over into the way it speaks to users and the way it double-guesses the way the world should begin their letters?

The Templates, sample documents that the user can edit to make their own, with their repertoire of 'elegant fax', 'contemporary fax' to 'formal letter' or 'memo', acknowledge that forgery is the basic form of document produced in the modern office. The purest manifestation of this so far is 419 Fraud, named after the Nigerian Statute that outlaws it. 419 consists of tens of thousands of letters, apparently coming from government officials, company directors, military officers, approaching Western bank account holders with an incredible offer. The letters claim an insight into some impending calamity or coup and requests that the recipient aid the senders by allowing their bank account to be used to move capital out of Nigeria in return for a generous commission. All that is requested is a simple downpayment.=20 And then another. A couple more. The entire operation is based around faxes and letters, an industrial scale semiotics of fraud: letterheads, confidentiality, intimations of corrupt generals, numbers in government departments and corporate headquarters, calls to aid the world's poor, stranded bank accounts, readily available cynicism with politics, the ploy of the African simpleton working the racist sucker. The believable template, hooked up to the mailing list database is an economic machine that works all the better, all the more profitably, if it is fuelled on fraud.

Whilst "In mechanised writing all human beings look the same"10 in the case of templates the writing itself becomes peripheral to the processing. Employment agencies on the net have been found to be advertising non-existent jobs in order to pull in trade and the appearance of market share. Tens of thousands of people respond with their CVs. For jobs knocked up by the batchload on a CGI form come a multitude of self-starting no-dozers with ski-lift productivity profiles as per the thrilling careers of the templated exemplars that come with the program.

The underlying grammar of the program conforms to that expected within the standardised proprietary interface. The menu bar at the top of the screen provides a list of verbs which can be actioned on the nouns within the currently active window. These verbs are put matter-of-factly, as tasks: File, Edit, View, Insert, Format, Font, Tools, Table, Window, Work, Help. There is the same bluntness about the use that the program is primarily intended to be put in the sub-programs that direct the user to produce certain kinds of documents with the least amount of fuss: CV Wizard, Envelope Wizard, Letter Wizard. These are the modes of writing it makes easy. Suicide Note Wizard remains uncompleted. The Autotext toolbar already sees this easy description begin to fray. The writer is locked into the lexical domain of 'Dear Mom and Dad' as much as into 'Dear Sir or Madam' and 'To Whom it May Concern'. Mailing instructions and 'Attention' lines are offered alongside a range of closing phrases ranging from the formal to the intimate.

Effective human-machine integration required that people and machines be comprehended in similar terms so that human-machine systems could be engineered to maximise the performance of both kinds of component11=20 Word has no direct 'interest' in information or communication, but rather in its facilitation. It arranges things according to a pragmatics that is not concerned so much with such as "When I say my mouth is open how do we know that this is what I have said?", but with sensing and matching every bit of such possible statements. The end point of which of course is that every possible document will be ready for production by the choice of correct template and the ticking of the necessary thousands of variable boxes.

Michael Heim's chapter on 'The Finite Framework of Language' is particularly good in developing an understanding of this aspect of early Word Processing. Jargons, metaphors, descriptive leaps, constitute the visible language of the application something that excites and mobilises use and exploration of the program. The language of the program benefits from, "The ambiguity inherent in natural language which makes possible words both sufficiently reminiscent of past usages and semantically precise enough to indicate the new". This is not quite so much McLuhan's medial recapitulation of past forms as much as the problem which besets writers of Hard SF in making their scientific extrapolations of terms and possibilities believable within currently available nominative frameworks whilst still amounting a sense of going beyond them. For both, the prize is the same: "As the user learns the new system, the language installs the user in the system'12 It is at this point that the program comes into composition with the user through the interface.

Delete as appropriate

In 'Electronic Language' Heim uses Heidegger's term Enframement13 to describe how the word processing software in effect runs a pre-emptive totalising macro on language. It is an understanding of language captured and made into a world that describes the possibilities for its use and conceptualisation on behalf of the archetypal user. However, it is an enframement that can never be pre-emptive or holistic enough, that is instead reduced - or turned productively into- the ongoing site of conflict and transference that is the interface.

The interface is the threshold between the underlying structure of the program and the user. As a threshold it contains elements of both. The accrual of transference from the user, their incorporation, is produced in the ability to customise, through preferences, through macros, through autocorrections, user dictionaries, though custom templates, but also formulated in how users are conjured up as a class with needs that can be met en masse.

Microsoft Word was one of the first word processor for the PC with a decent enough graphical user interface. It made effective use of the mouse, and indeed actually often gave people a reason to buy one for the first time. However, after version 5.1 the program seems clearly to have made a break with being simply a clean easy to use word processor and became something else. The constant accrual of new tools and functions by a software bent on self-perfection means that there are no commands that will ever die in word, no function will ever be lost. The Word 5.1 Toolbar is a cognitive fossil, something like a lizard brain crawled back under the stones of higher consciousness.

Whilst not all of the interface is a disaster - you can play movies in Word with far less clutter and brushed aluminium than you can in QuickTime 4 for instance, there is no clear sense of why you might want to do this, and if so, how that reconfigures the program and its previously core focus, writing. Whilst it is clear that writing is, under digitisation, of necessity going to be displaced, it is how this change is produced and articulated and the clarity and interrogability of the way in which this is done that determines how well an interface works or not. Word of course exists within the context of Office.

Here, digital writing is not simply subsumed within an uninterrupted envelope for accessing various medial formations but articulated, variegated and positioned by the 419 culture of doing business.

If the behaviour of writing was solely being conditioned in this respect the problematic of why Word's interface is the way it is would be easy to resolve. Things are also complicated by the way the software is programmed. Alan Cooper suggests that, "Our desktop system has so many menus and text-based dialogue boxes because all windowing systems... ...provide pre-written code modules for these functions.=20 Conversely, none of those systems provide much pre-written code for dragging and dropping, which is why you see so little direct manipulation. A dialogue box can be constructed in six or eight lines of easy, declarative code. A drag and drop idiom must be constructed with about 100 lines of very intricate procedural code. The choice - for the programmer - is obvious."14

The economics of software constricts it so tightly that it is bound to repeating simply more of its past whilst churning out more, more faster in order to deal with any perceived competition. For computer human interface design as a discipline though, the aesthetics of the interface is simply a matter of physiology applied, by the spadeful. Whilst there is the minor problem of which model of human to locate as being the most relevant to the problem, there are plenty of clip-art bodies to be downloaded and used from the libraries of Psychology and Veterinary Science. The traces of the psychometric, psychophysical, behaviourist design parameters of the human organism specified in the computer's originary conceptual infrastructure have in Word been left behind though in the sheer painful act of concentration it takes to regurgitate all that fearsome quantity of matter onto the screen.

A grey environment increases egg-production in chickens

The user begins to work. Everything on screen apart from the actual contents of the focal window containing the text is lit by a continuous light from the upper left, an upper left that remains at a constant angle no matter how far you move something horizontally across the screen: sunshine? Neon strip. This is an ultra-shallow three-dimensional world granted a pixelswidth of shade to demark every seperate element. When it appears, the assistant visually addresses the user as if they are slightly to the right and forward of where it initially appears on screen. A perspectival cross-fire is under construction. The user is always, but never quite accurately, implicated as the pair of eyes that creates this by seeing. Sound feedback is used to confirm that a process has been completed, an event has occurred. Perhaps taking their cue from the promptings of the whirr and tick of keyboards and hard-drives in use Word's audio-designers have produced a series of snips, shuffles and chimes. But whilst the program susserates and clicks politely, its sound is always in deference to a feedback sequence that is initiated and maintained through visual interaction.

Word's Graphic User Interface is not simply one unremitting grey avalanche. The essential dilemna of a computer display is that: "At every screen are two powerful information-processing capabilities, human and computer. Yet all communication between the two must pass through the low-resolution, narrow-band video display terminal, which chokes off fast, precise and complex communication"15 Microsoft's answer to this is not unique but it is one that massively overcompensates for this bottleneck, rather than try to develop its potential. In order to create the fastest possible route between the human and the computer a fast conduit to every function must be as accessible as possible on the screen: hence many icons on many toolbars occupying much of the screen. The question is not whether this works, it clearly doesn't. Users simply remember a few of the icons that they use regularly and are effectively locked out of the rest of the program.

In this respect, Tufte's data-ink ratio formulation might prove useful if adapted slightly. The amount of information provided by an interface can be costed against the amount of pixels in the toolbar that it changes from the uniform background. On this reckoning different toolbars begin to appear to be designed on quite radically different interface conventions. The Standard Toolbar is full of 3D images, representations of real objects, globes, magnifying glasses, cubes and disks. There is a wide and variable use of colour (two different magnifying glasses have different coloured handles for instance) and even the graphic styles (compare the grey, two-dimensional scissors for 'cut' to the multicoloured three-dimensional 'paste' brush) contradict one another. By comparison the Formatting toolbar is a rather austere grey, black and blue. The only 3D is provided by what seems to be a highlighter pen.

There is no particular point here in assessing which style 'works', although the latter is far easier on the eyes in terms of peripheral vision when in use and in terms of reading to find or guess a particular function - since as the icons are uniform in colour, they do not suffer from the phenomenon of brightly coloured elements (such as the arrows on the 'Web Toolbar' icon or the circle on that for 'Drawing') becoming visually detached from the rest of the shape. In addition to this, once more than one toolbar is opened, "The various elements collected together in flatland interact, creating non-information patterns and texture simply through their combined presence"16

The fast conduit from human to computer becomes bottlenecked again simply by the scale of potential interaction sequences. A quick way to cut down on this would be to make sure that as OOP provides a single identity for an arbitrary set of properties and capacities, no tool appears in one toolbar if it is already present in another. This does not solve the problem however. It is two-fold: that of the semiotics of icons and of the continuing spatial organisation of data in a computing environment that has gone way beyond the capacity of the desktop metaphor to accommodate.

Iconic languages as used in an extremely limited way in transport information systems, or as proposed by the universalist anthropology of Margaret Mead, are always doomed to fail, swamped at best in connotation or more usually in disinterest. Word is not of course alone in having too many icons. Quark Xpress for instance has an excessive number of picture box shapes represented on the first level of its toolbar - one would do fine, the rest being accessible via a drop-menu. To cope with this, icons in Word are always dependent on several kinds of textual help. Help becomes necessary solely because of the vast number of icons that are completely inexplicable.

Within the standard noun / verb grammar of the interface, icons look too often like nouns rather than triggers for verbs as functions, not only do their icons and names individually fail to cohere at an isomorphic level, their relationship to a clearer underlying system is also diminished without any pay-off in flexibility or scope for developing more comprehensive, structural rather than scattershot, understanding.

Digital Abundance

Despite the easy suspicion that the vast majority of the 'features' that Word now encompasses are simply there to persuade male users that they are not doing work that was previously relegated to female secretaries this is not to say that there is nothing worth admiring in Word. The sheer, useless inventive ugliness of the 'Word Art' interface single-handedly gives the lie to the myth that allowing seperate work-groups within a project command of what they do comes to nothing but muddle. Two dialogue boxes worth of minutely variable options given in fantastically unrelated swirling technicolour takes some beating. A common criticism of digital media is made that it compresses time in order for more work to be extricated from the user. Word also has the capacity to dilate time, and in such corners of the program we can see the corporate imaginary of Microsoft fattening and opening up like some blushing hungry bivalve.

At the same time as the amount of functions have increased, the menu bar has lengthened and the depth of choice trees has increased. In addition, as the tools become more complex, encompassing more functions, they become more abstract. That is to say that more and more of the tool's composition becomes devoted to monitoring and fine-tuning the operation of the tool. The problem is, (if we are to take this route) in finding a definition of tool. Are they metaphors, extensions, something that 'Gives visible form and physical action to a logical operation'17 The tool perspective in computer interface design as proposed by Winograd and Flores is an endless search for a Heideggerian route to technology as a homing device. The idea runs that producing a human-centred design methodology which opposes a tool-based approach to the Death Star of Cartesianism-Taylorism allows pure form as a manifestation of a concept or task to be mobilised in the production of interaction design melded with thoroughly simplicity to the work and thought patterns of its users.