Direct Manipulation

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 Direct Manipulation


CIS 524 – Computer Interaction and Design


Strayer University


Assignment 3: Direct Manipulation


Early computer systems relied on command line interfaces to perform all actions. Today, the majority of systems use direct manipulation rather than a command line interface. The goal of designing a direct manipulation interface is to make use of the system intuitive to the end user. Direct manipulation is a style of Human Machine Interaction (HMI) design which features a natural representation of task objects and actions promoting the notion of people performing a task themselves and not through an intermediary like a computer. It is a term that describes the human-machine interaction design which makes this interaction appears more natural. This is in the essence that there is minimal utilization of an intermediary. In computer science, direct manipulation is the style of human-computer interaction which enables a natural representation of actions and task objects- it allows users to directly act on objects in the interface.

One industry that has been extremely successful designing intuitive direct manipulation inputs is the video game industry. Most game players are able to learn controls as they play a game and then apply the same controls to similar games. Rarely do they need to read a user manual. In this paper we will research direct manipulation and its correlation in various fields of human computer interaction.

Principles of Direct Manipulation in Video Game Controls

There are principles that defined direct manipulation and its relation to interfaces. These principles defined if an interface is one were direct manipulation is been used. First of all, the instruments in the computer are visually indistinguishable from the real life objects they represent. On the video game industry, this translates to having objects resemble as closely as possible to real live objects, cars, planes, sporting instruments, guns and anything that the end user will be interacting with as part of the video game. Second principle is that the actions performed on the computer instruments are similar to those performed on the similar objects in real world. Once again, in the video game sample, this means that all objects have the same functionality as in real life, you can drive a car, shoot a gun, and swing a bat; all acceptable actions under the similarity of real life vs video game parallelism we want to accomplish.

The conceptual linkage between the computer objects and actions performed on them and the real world objects and actions performed on them is maintained. This for instance is demonstrable from the fact that in video games, a car will be driven as it normally is in the real world. Another principle is that the interface uses physical actions or pressing of labeled buttons instead of complex computer syntax. Last but not least, the effects on the objects are seen immediately. This is evidenced by the fact that actions is video games are seen to occur as instantly as the player of the game performs them.

Video Game-Type Interfaces and the Effectiveness in Real-World Applications

Video games are an example of a creation that seeks to be as interactive with the users as possible. They are the definition of human-computer interaction, since the ultimate goal is to provide a highly usable and enjoyable experience to the end user while interacting with a console or computer. Interfaces have been developed for this purpose and have advanced significantly during the years and the different game consoles. The integration of fiction to these components makes it quite unique to other human interfaces, but nonetheless the same theory applies. At the end of the day, we want the end user to become part of the story and actions. Video-game interfaces are present in various types and this depends on how linked the users are to the narrative of the game or to its geometry. Some of the game-type interfaces are as follow:

Video game interfaces are not for the real world applications, some terminology and principles might apply but the lack of fiction on real world applications makes it virtually impossible to integrate fully all the theory behind video game interface design. Real world applications are actions which need to be undertaken in actuality and results be given. In the gaming world, actions are performed in an imitation manner and thus video game interfaces are only created to support and advance imitation of real world actions.

  • Diegetic user interface:Interface that is included in the game world, it can be seen and heard by the game characters . In this interface the elements existing in the game are such that the avatar is able to interact with them visually, audibly or through haptic means.
  • Meta user interface: Sometimes UI elements don’t fit within the geometry of the game world. They can still maintain the game’s narrative but sit on the 2D hub plane; these are called Meta elements. A common example of a Meta UI element is blood the splatters on the screen as a form of health bar, it tells the player that the character is losing health.
  • Spatial interface: Is used when there’s a need to break the narrative in order to provide more information to the player than the character should be aware of. They still sit within the geometry of the game’s environment to help immerse the player and prevent them from having to break the experience by jumping to menu screens. The closer these follow the rules of the game’s fiction the more they can help immerse the player .

Advantages of Direct Manipulation vs Command Line Interfaces

Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) is better for using direct manipulation, and for using the selected object to narrow down the range of possible actions. GUIs take more advantage of our ability to quickly perceive and interact with images, but even though new users seem to learn GUIs more quickly to perform common operations, carefully developed Command Line Interfaces (CLIs) have its advantages . Advantages that direct manipulation has against CLIs include:

Direct Manipulation and Disadvantages

  • Intuitive, simple and flexible to use than command line interface. New users will get its concepts without much struggle unlike in the case of command line interface.
  • Adaptable and allows customization of functions as opposed to the command line interface. This customization feature is attractive for users as they can set functions or elements to their own liking.
  • Allows changes to the system be made without having to alert the user. This is advantageous in the sense that the user is not disrupted form his operations.
    • Allows users to explore more. This is more so by the aspect of allowing users to customize.

Direct manipulation is great, but is not perfect, there are many limitations that need to be addresses in order to have a fully functional direct manipulation interface and leverage its disadvantages. Almost each DM characteristic has a directly corresponding disadvantage . Those disadvantages and some others are listed below:


  • You can only act on the small number of objects that can be seen at any given time, and objects that are out of sight, but not out of mind, can only be dealt with after the user has laboriously navigated to the place that holds those objects so that they can be made visible.
  • It is a lot of work to move all those icons and sliders around the screen.
  • No continuous feedback, unless you attempt an operation that the system feels like letting you do. No feedback, only frustration.
    • Learnability depends on how well designed the interface is.
    • Direct Manipulation is slow.
    • Repetitive tasks are not well supported.
    • Some gestures can be more error-prone than typing.
    • Accessibility may suffer: DM UIs may fail visually impaired users or users with motor skill impairments, especially if they are heavily based on physical actions, as opposed to button presses and menu selections.

Nowadays, almost any interface that is aimed at a broad audience and has a graphical component is based on direct manipulation. With the explosion of touchscreen devices, we’ve seen direct manipulation interfaces depart from the original office metaphors and innovate in a variety of domains. . It does have its drawback and they need to be leverage in order to function properly and provide a seamless and usable interface, but it is way better than the alternative, command line interface. I think that in the future, direct manipulation will advance more and will be more realistic than before, with the integration of virtual reality and augmented reality interaction, it will be pushed to new limits.


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Budiu, R., & Sherugar, S. (2016, August 21). Direct Manipulation: Definition. Retrieved from Nielsen Norman Group:

Novick, D., Romero, F., Saenz, E., & Sandoval, A. (2002). Extending Direct Manipulation in a Text Editor .

Softpanorama. (2015, May 23). GUI vs. Command line interface. Retrieved from Softpanorama:

Stonehouse, A. (2014, February 27). User interface design in video games. Retrieved from Gamasutra:

TheWanderLust. (2010, March 29). User interface design in video games. Retrieved from TheWanderLust:

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