Desktop Neo
Lennart Ziburski
  1. Lennart Ziburski designs interfaces, like this one. Let’s work together!

Desktop Neo

rethinking the desktop interface for productivity.
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The desktop computer hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years. It’s still built on windows, folders and mouse input. But we have changed. We now use smartphones and tablets most of the time, since they are much easier to use.

The traditional desktop computer is struggling to adapt the simple interfaces of mobile devices while also keeping its focus on productivity. With people switching to mobile devices for mundane tasks, we have the opportunity to rethink the desktop computer with a focus on getting professional work done.

Neo is a conceptual desktop operating system interface that is built for todays people, needs and technologies. Visualized below are ideas that were designed to inspire and provoke discussions about the future of productive computing. I have no intention of taking this beyond the concept stage. However, I am putting my work out there hoping that people build upon it.

Panels

Your whole screen for easy multitasking.

Neo shows your apps as panels. They fill the full height of your screen and are placed next to each other without overlap. You can have dozens of panels open and easily scroll through them to switch between apps. Or resize and move them to work with multiple apps side-by-side.

Panels use screen space more efficiently and are a more elegant way to multitask than normal windows.

Fit

Resize a panel to fit within your screen by just clicking on its edge.

Minimize

Minimize panels to save space while still getting a peek at the app.

Pin

Pin a panel to your screen to keep it on top while switching apps.


Gesture Overview
  1. Scroll through panels

    drag left or right
    with 3 fingers

  2. Open App Control

    drag down
    with 3 fingers

  3. Open an apps menu

    click on the panel
    with 3 fingers

  4. Open a Finder panel

    click and drag up
    with 3 fingers

  5. Close a panel

    click and drag it down
    with 3 fingers

  6. Resize panels

    click and drag between panels
    with 3 fingers

  7. Fullscreen

    click and drag outwards on a panel
    with 6 fingers

  8. Minimize

    click and drag inwards on a panel
    with 6 fingers

Tags

Flexible organization for everything.

Children growing up now are using hashtags and Google long before files and folders. We know how to enter something into a searchbar and get relevant results. Even our brain works through association, not hierachy.

Neo uses tags instead of folders to make finding all your content more flexible and efficient. You can tag everything from documents and apps to mails, websites, tweets, people or events. Tags could even expand to specific content on the web, like videos on YouTube or products on Amazon. So instead of your stuff spreading across many different apps and services, you can get all related content in one place. The location of content becomes irrelevant, making sharing across devices and users much easier.

Tags are very flexible. You can add multiple tags, and you don’t have to define a specific location or a single hierachy. Of course, you can also edit tags later on. But you don’t need to use tags for everything. You can still use search, filters and document pickers from apps to get to your content. Tagging is a pro feature that can extend and coexist with more basic means of file management.

Tags in Neo are styled as hashtags (like #tag). Hashtags brought tagging to a mainstream audience and are instantly recognizable. They are also very quick to add, without switching to a specific tagging mode.



Tagging Tags

In some cases, tags can be less efficient than folders. With folders, you could just open the clients folder and get a list of all its subfolders. Tags don’t have this kind of hierachy.

Neo solves this by letting you apply tags to other tags. So you can add the tag #clients to #client1, #client2, and so on. Then search for #clients to see a list of all those tags / clients. From there, you could just click on a tag to see its content.

Being able to tag a tag gives you the hierachy of folders when you need it, while still keeping the flexibility and ease-of-use of tags.

Smart Tags

Smart Tags let you automatically tag content based on rules. You can set rules through all other tags and filters.

For example, the Smart Tag #iphone could be automatically added to all documents created with the app Sketch that are also tagged with #mockup and have a resolution of 1334x750. Then, you can just search for #iphone to find those files.

Smart Tags are an easy way to organize your content without going through every single file.

Gaze

See and click.

Neo tracks your eye gaze, so you don’t have to point with a mouse cursor before clicking. Gaze tracking hardware has become a lot better, smaller and cheaper over the last few years. It can be built in alongside a webcam. However, gaze tracking is obviously still not as precise as traditional mouse input. We can work around that by using a touchpad as a secondary input.

Whenever you put a finger on the touchpad, your current gaze selection is highlighted. If necessary, you can easily adjust the selection by moving your finger. Then just press down to click. This is comparable to the hover effect on the web. It’s much faster and easier than using a mouse, while still being precise enough for most tasks.

1

Select

Touch to select what you are looking at.

2

Adjust

Swipe to adjust your selection.

3

Click

Click to confirm your selection.

Focus Mode

When your eyes are focused on a single panel for more than a minute, other panels slowly fade into the background. They instantly pop back if you look at them.

Just Type

Just type while looking at an email to reply to it. Or type while looking at a search field to search. Neo knows the context of what you want to do without unnecessary interactions.

Preloading

Before you decide to click on something, your gaze usually focuses on it for a short moment. That’s often enough to start preloading content in the background and substantially improve load times.

Identify Users

Every person has a unique eye movement pattern. Combined with other sensors, this can be used for identifying users and security.

Notifications

Neo automatically dismisses incoming notifications after you look at them. You don’t have to swipe them away.

Touch

A large touchpad is the perfect partner for gaze input. You can use it to select, scroll, zoom and more wherever you are looking. And for really precise input, you could use devices like Apple Pencil on the touchpad.

Use one finger to interact with whatever you are directly looking at. With two fingers, you can scroll or zoom inside a panel. And three fingers let you modify and switch between panels.

Voice

Hey Siri, get back to work!

Voice input is a great fit for desktop interfaces. You are usually in a more personal and less noisy environment when working, and the tasks you do are more complex. That’s where voice input shines. With voice, you can access every possible command at any time – without going through a menu. You can reference elements that are not visible on screen and you can easily chain multiple commands together. And since Neo tracks your gaze, you can also reference what you are looking at.

Just press the voice key on your keyboard and start talking. Neo shows results in the bottom left corner of your screen without disrupting your workflow. Voice input has much more potential than the basic virtual assistants on our phones. On the desktop, it should be focused on helping us do work, not on witty conversations that take over the whole screen.


Conclusion

Neo rethinks desktop computing for productivity and efficiency. With panels, you can use your whole screen for easy multitasking and the new Finder is a quick way to the information you need. Tags, filters and content cards let you find and manage all your content without rigid folders. Gaze, touch and voice input enable easier and more efficient interactions, like the new context menu.

I hope Neo helps you imagine the possibilites of a desktop interface designed for the people and needs of today. We need more people to think about the future of the desktop. So please do tell your friends about Neo, and share it on or .

Design Process

The process of designing Desktop Neo involved a lot of research, prototyping and iteration. I analyzed jobs-to-be-done, target groups and user flows. You can learn a bit more about the design process, previous iterations and the tools I used on the 'Design Process' page.

Contribute

Improving the ways we work with our computers is an important part of our future. Neo barely scratches the surface of the problems and possibilites that exist in this space. So I would love to see your ideas about the future of work computing. I am always happy to chat, so please do get in touch. I am also releasing this concept and source files under a CC license and am collecting open questions and interesting work on the 'Contribute' page.

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Blog Posts

I am constantly sharing more thoughts and in-depth breakdowns of Desktop Neo on my blog. You can also follow me on twitter to stay updated.

Discussions

Desktop Neo sparked great discussions about the future of desktop computing on Hackernews, Designernews, The Verge and The Next Web.

Lennart Ziburski is an interface designer from Berlin.

I am 21 years old and study interface design at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam.

I focus on interface design, prototyping, product strategy and design research.
I design user interfaces to empower people and ease their everyday pains.
I believe that designers have a social responsibility to users.
I value clear thinking, empathy and efficiency in design.

Let's work together!
I am always interested in new freelance and internship opportunities.

Press

If you would like to write about Desktop Neo, please feel free to quote my writing. I have also put together a small folder with high-resolution images for you to use, as long as you attribute them back to me and this site. Of course, I would be happy to provide additional thoughts and answer your questions. Just send me an email.

Thanks

Thanks to Frank Rausch and Timm Kekeritz from Raureif and Prof. Matthias Krohn from FHP for their extensive support and feedback.