The Parrot Keyboard

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Class 3: from the bird’s point of view.

Mithrander, the Grey

I’ve tried to make design choices based on (what I understand of) the parrot’s point of view. Rather than taking my evolution and prejudice as a starting point, I’ve tried to think about how the parrot would look at the keyboard.


Keyboard on cage

I deliberately did not enclose the finished keyboard because I wanted it to be open (without anything for a predator to lurk behind).

Keyboard rods

The rods are 3/8" in diameter because that is a good size for medium or large parrots to grasp in their claw or beak.

The rods, although clearly man-made, are reminiscent of branches. It is a natural action for the bird to grasp a branch to test its weight-bearing capability, or to bite on a branch to determine it hardness.

The rods are made of a polycarbonate plastic (Lexan) because it has a warm, non-metallic feel, and is hard enough to stand up to in-cage use. It is also non-toxic.

Keyboard switches

I chose the switch that provided a small click and change in feel at the point that a connection is made to provide auditory and tactile feedback to indicate that some action has occurred.

There are five keys because the research clearly shows that parrots (among several animals) can enumerate up to five.

Keyboard shield

A Lexan shield provides separation from the in-cage environment and the aluminum and other materials of the keyboard.

All surfaces exposed to the parrots are Lexan or stainless steel, bird-safe materials.

In summary, I tried to make every important decision about the design of the keyboard with respect to the user of the keyboard—in this case, the bird.

Basic cognitive principals

            • Affordances
            • Constraints
            • Mappings
            • Causality
            • Transfer effects
            • Consistency
            • Mental Models
            • Comfort

            • (Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things)

Many, if not all, of the cognitive principles that apply to interface design at least seem to make sense when exploring a parrot keyboard. It would have been wonderful to be able to carefully construct tests based on these basic principals of Norman’s, but that will have to wait for future presentations.

My paper addresses these topics in some greater depth, and I would like to thank my advisor Rosalie Bujarski for her encouragement to focus on the usability of the keyboard from the bird’s point of view.

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