Bill Buxton – Great minds of our time

I am starting a series call Great minds of our time to share with you my personal picks of some of the great minds of our time. I’ve met with some of them and some of them once or a few times. Some have been my teachers. Some of them I’ve never met and never will as they have passed on. I have learned a lot from all of them by reading their writings (articles and/or books) and watching them presents. I am not ranking these great minds so I am just going to be talking about them one at a time.

In my humble opinion, Bill Buxton is one of the most creative minds of our time. Bill is “a designer and a researcher concerned with human aspects of technology” and he is currently a principal researcher at Microsoft Research. I have heard and known of Bill’s name since his early days at U of Toronto long long ago. But I don’t think I met him in person nor I really knew much about his research before. It was only since 2001 that I came to learn more about Bill’s work and how cool and how insightful he really is.

I still don’t know Bill personally so I am learning from his conference presentations (in person last year in Calgary) and also his writings (available online, including this digtal film discussion in 2004 TIFF). [2009 update: I got to meet Bill in 2007 (?) at University of Calgary and then at the 2008 nextMEDIA, I can say I know Bill a little now.]

Here are some of my favourites (this is a very small list as Bill’s site is worth exploring for its many treasures),

  1. What if Leopold Didn’t Have a Piano?” (video webcast of the presentation given in 2005)
  2. Innovation vs. Invention” (insightful article)
  3. Bill’s Alias Research Videos (these are great to watch)
  4. Bill’s Research Videos (also quite interesting to watch)


Dec 31, 2006 update: Bill Buxton has written a new book, “Sketching User Experiences“. Here is what he wrote about it. “The writing part of my book on design is finally finished and it is finally in production. It will be published by Morgan Kaufmann and launched at the annual ACM SIGCHI Conference [2007] in San Jose, CA, April 28-May 3.” Here are more info in this two-page book flyer pdf file.

June 11, 2007 update: Bill’s new book “Sketching User Experiences” is out. I am going to try to get my hands on a copy.

April 1, 2009 update: Since I wrote the first draft of this blog entry, I have finally met Bill a few times now. He is as insightful in person as he appears on page and on videos. I highly recommend attending one of Bill’s talk or speech live if you can. Check out bill’s latest MIX09 Keynote video, highly recommended.


10 Responses to Bill Buxton – Great minds of our time

  1. […] P.S. I heard this quote in a Bill Buxton speech (see the end of part 4). […]

  2. Mark says:

    The man doesn’t even have a Wiki page! Who is this guy? He gives a mean lecture, even if he does seem a bit 龜毛. I poked around his university’s pages a bit, but didn’t find that much info on him.
    Hi Mark,

    What do you mean by “龜毛”? It seems offensive in Chinese and unless you explain what it means, I will have to remove your comment. I don’t want to see unfounded insults or attack on other people (and especially on those that I respect).

    Mark, I am a bit disappointed by your comment and your tone of language. If you have taken the time to actually read up on his web sites and check out some videos, you would have seen Bill Buxton has involved in many advanced computing stuff for years and is very respected in the industry. The fact that he doesn’t have a Wiki page doesn’t mean anything to me here.

    By the way, in future, please use English as the language for comments unless, may be, when my full article is in Chinese. I want comments to be appreciated by everyone and not just those who can read Chinese.

    Thanks for your cooperation,

  3. Mark says:

    龜毛 isn’t that negative (at least here). I found myself having a hard time translating the feeling into English. That’s why I said it. I guess it means “picky”, or focusing on very small details. Since turtles (龜) don’t have hair (毛). It’s not really positive, but I didn’t mean to be offensive. I also didn’t realize you wanted languages strictly separated. I apologize for this one (and for the English comment on your Chinese article about Wiki).

    I had taken the time to investigate him a bit. Before commenting, I watched 80 minutes of his videos on your link #1, his recent talk at Sun[1], plus another hour on Google video. As I said, it was a “mean” (i.e. “impressive”) lecture. The were some interesting ideas, and some were unique. I think he does over inflate the importance of some details, though[2]. That’s what I meant about the “turtle-hair”. I’ll have to go through the videos again and take notes when I encounter those parts in order to leave a very specific comment.

    Since Bill Buxton is somebody you would group with the likes of Warren Buffet and Richard Feynman, maybe you ought to be the one to start a Wiki page for him.

    [2] I think the same of many other lecturers that I respect, such as Raymond Kurzweil.
    Hi Mark,

    Thanks a lot for your new comment and your private email to clarify things. Much appreciated.

    I guess I was being very protective when I read “The man doesn’t even have a Wiki page! Who is this guy?” as those were fighting words in a disrespectful tone.

    I understand the challenges in using the right words in English to convey a feeling that is so well defined in other languages (Chinese, in this case) and I have the same challenges sometimes too.

    With respect to the use of languages in comments. I actually prefer all comments in English. But I do make an exception for Chinese articles as it make sense to allow Chinese comments since those who can read my Chinese articles can also read the Chinese comments. Again, I am looking for maximum participations thus my natural preference to use English as a medium of communication. You see, I did one interview with Wong Yuk Man in English for the same purpose of allowing more viewers to hear from him directly with any translation.

    OK, again, setting in the disrespectful tone that I read in your first two sentences, everything followed got colored by the same impression. So, it is good to read you clarify, “As I said, it was a “mean” (i.e. “impressive”) lecture.”

    You see Mark, I looked at the body of work and the things that Bill Buxton has got himself involved in and the things that he was doing, way before everyone, were just work class. Just my 2 cents.

    By the way, you may have a point, and many may agree, that Buxton is not Feynman or Buffett kinds of “Great minds” but then as long as I can have lots and lots of things to learn from them and I enjoy learning from them, I think it is safe for me to them on my list of “Great Minds”. You see, ultimately, my “Great minds of our time” series are intended to bring attention to wonderful people where others may have something to learn from.

    Now Mark, thanks a lot for suggesting new work for me in Wikipedia. (ha ha, too many things to do, not enough time). I am actually going to try to work on improving the entry for Professor Steven N. S. Cheung. Do you want to help on it? Please see my discussion on his wiki page. You see, Cheung is on my list of Great minds of our time. In my books, he is the most influential economist in China in terms of his overall impact. And, of course, I know he has a big ego but I guess you take the good with the bad. (smile)

    Thanks for take the time to comment and I very much appreciate your clarifications,

  4. […] in my chat with Dale Herigstad, Chief Creative Officer of Schematic, I highly recommended Bill Buxton who  I consider as a world expert in the area of user experiences design (the same field as Dale). […]

  5. […] is an example. It is a story I first read quoted by the insightful Bill Buxton. And I think it applies to blogging too. I was deeply touched by the following story and it makes […]

  6. […] Sketching User Experiences (audio chat): Creating better user experiences with Sketch, Resources: Book info, the Sketch a Move (toy cars) clip, the classic Bi-Focal Display clip, and other cool videos discussed in book, and some comments and links about Bill Buxton […]

  7. […] for some years. You see, I actually started my “Great minds of our time” series with Bill as the first subject in 2006. Therefore I was so thrilled and surprised to hear that Bill actually read my blog (yes, […]

  8. […] Bill Buxton @ MIX09 Keynote Bill Buxton is one of the people I respect very much and he was the first person I picked for fun in my personal list of “Great Minds of Our time“. […]

  9. […] Buxton’s ideas and insights. You shouldn’t be surprised because he is one of my “Great Minds of Our Time” (see […]

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