Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 25th Oct 2007 16:52 UTC
Graphics, User Interfaces This is the first article in a series on common usability and graphical user interface related terms. On the internet, and especially in forum discussions like we all have here on OSNews, it is almost certain that in any given discussion, someone will most likely bring up usability and GUI related terms - things like spatial memory, widgets, consistency, Fitts' Law, and more. The aim of this series is to explain these terms, learn something about their origins, and finally rate their importance in the field of usability and (graphical) user interface design. We start off with spatial memory - my personal favourite.
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It's important
by stooovie on Thu 25th Oct 2007 18:19 UTC
stooovie
Member since:
2006-01-25

Yes, spatial memory is VERY important when it comes to GUI. I drive myself nuts over something as seemingly simple as 3rd party utils having their own entries in context menus in Windows - TuneUp for example places its Undelete command right above the separator in Trash bin's context menu and I constantly find myself clicking it instead of "Empty trash". And that's just a little insignificant example. Thanks for a nice article, Thom!

Reply Score: 1

Man if I have to read...
by bryanv on Thu 25th Oct 2007 19:07 UTC
bryanv
Member since:
2005-08-26

one more person moaning about Fitt's Law I think I'm going to spoon my eyeballs out.

Yes, most of us who are in development know it.

Yes, we all know the Windows start button sucks at it.

My problem with it is that it's over-applied to situations in which it has no application by people who have little to no context to what they're speaking about. It drives me absolutely nuts when people start spouting about GUI design without ever having completed any guided studies on UI design, been involved in TA testing of GUI principles or prototype software, and generally think UI design is about 'teh webpage should never scroll'.

Gah.

So thanks for trying to put something together that is more in-depth and might actually enlighten people that there's more to UI design than freakin' Fitts.

Edited 2007-10-25 19:09

Reply Score: 9

RE: Man if I have to read...
by StephenBeDoper on Thu 25th Oct 2007 20:21 UTC in reply to "Man if I have to read..."
StephenBeDoper Member since:
2005-07-06

Definitely agreed. I find it especially silly when Fitt's Law gets cited as some sort of trump card argument "proving" the superiority of E.g. global menu bars. Fitt's Law, IIRC, just has to do with where UI elements can be placed to make them easiest to "hit" with the mouse pointer - it doesn't say a thing about which particular elements should be placed in those easy-to-hit parts of the screen. That's the difference between usability theory and its practical implementation.

Reply Score: 3

RIchard James13 Member since:
2007-10-26

If you are not using a mouse but a touch screen instead does Fitt's Law still apply? I wouldn't think so because the mouse pointer stops moving when it gets to the edge of the screen whereas your hand does not. I would think that with both mouse and touchscreen interfaces that the size of the widgets is more important than Fitt's Law anyway. Consistent spacial layout would come before Fitt's as well. Who cares if it is hard to reach for a button if the button is not in the same place every time anyway.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Man if I have to read...
by hobgoblin on Fri 26th Oct 2007 12:16 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Man if I have to read..."
hobgoblin Member since:
2005-07-06

i dont know if there was any experience data collected on it but i recall that in the 94 winter olympics the computer systems where supposed to be touch screen controlled.

and i kinda agree with you, the problem with the mouse is that we do not have awareness of its locations at all times. hell, i know i have the habit of spinning it in circles when it need to find it before i do anything.

with our hands we have built in awareness, thats why we can in theory reach out of view and still have a good idea of where our hands are.

i also wonder what a general feedback system on a mouse would be like. say having the left button jump each time one move over the edge of a ui element.

right now, our sense of where the mouse is is based to much on sight. we cant use hearing, smell, touch or anything like that to tell where the mouse is in relation to other things.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Man if I have to read...
by google_ninja on Fri 26th Oct 2007 05:09 UTC in reply to "RE: Man if I have to read..."
google_ninja Member since:
2006-02-05

I find it especially silly when Fitt's Law gets cited as some sort of trump card argument "proving" the superiority of E.g. global menu bars. Fitt's Law, IIRC, just has to do with where UI elements can be placed to make them easiest to "hit" with the mouse pointer - it doesn't say a thing about which particular elements should be placed in those easy-to-hit parts of the screen.


Fitts' Law doesn't say "put a menu at the top of the screen", but it does explain why placement a is superior to placement b, as long as you buy into the whole "infinite height" thing.

Reply Score: 2

StephenBeDoper Member since:
2005-07-06

True, but it could be applied to any user interface element just as easily as menu bars.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Man if I have to read...
by google_ninja on Fri 26th Oct 2007 05:11 UTC in reply to "Man if I have to read..."
google_ninja Member since:
2006-02-05

The start button doesnt suck at it, it is in one of the four easiest to hit places on the desktop, a corner. You can have the mouse anywhere on the screen, close your eyes, and still be able to trigger the start menu.

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Man if I have to read...
by hyriand on Fri 26th Oct 2007 09:58 UTC in reply to "RE: Man if I have to read..."
hyriand Member since:
2006-04-03

Uhm... Doesn't work here... The start button is a couple of pixels from the left and a couple of pixels from the bottom of the screen. This is windows xp with the classical theme.

Although I can trigger the start menu with my eyes closed (using the windows button on the keyboard).

Reply Score: 1

Thom_Holwerda Member since:
2005-06-29

Uhm... Doesn't work here... The start button is a couple of pixels from the left and a couple of pixels from the bottom of the screen. This is windows xp with the classical theme.


Interesting. I'm using the classic theme too, and here it works just fine.

Reply Score: 1

RE[4]: Man if I have to read...
by renox on Fri 26th Oct 2007 19:22 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Man if I have to read..."
renox Member since:
2005-07-06

+1 (Me too)

Reply Score: 1

RE[4]: Man if I have to read...
by bryanv on Mon 29th Oct 2007 14:30 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Man if I have to read..."
bryanv Member since:
2005-08-26

Prior to windows XP, it didn't work.

In XP, if you ram the mouse to the corner and click, the mouse pointer will actually be -repositioned- without you moving it!

Reply Score: 1

why not start with 'usability' itself ?
by troc on Thu 25th Oct 2007 19:54 UTC
troc
Member since:
2006-05-01

if anything needs a clear and rugged definition it is usability.

PS; it is not the (magical) sum of its parts.

Reply Score: 1

RIchard James13 Member since:
2007-10-26

"[Usability refers to] the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use." - ISO 9241-11

I got that by going to google and define usability.

The third link down was
http://www.upassoc.org/usability_resources/about_usability/definiti...

Who would have thought that it was an International Standard.

Googleing "ISO 9241-11" brings up more information.

Reply Score: 2

yorthen Member since:
2005-07-06

"[Usability refers to] the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use." - ISO 9241-11


Nice to have that in a standard. One thing that I have noticed is that most articles on usability actually focus on "learnability" (how easy it is to use an interface you have never seen before). I hope that this series will not be yet another one of those.

I like to show the difference between learnability and usability by comparing Notepad and Vim. None has ever said that Vim is easy to learn, Notepad on the other hand is very easy to learn. But when it comes to actually using those programs to perform some text editing (such as modifying source code) an experienced user will perform the task much faster and more efficient in Vim than in Notepad.

A consistent UI is great for learnability but it is not necessarily good for usability. That is simply because some common UI principles are not well matched to certain tasks and will force the user into inefficient procedures (which can be easy to learn but which takes more effort to perform).

Reply Score: 1

John Nilsson Member since:
2005-07-06

I wrote a litte text a while ago explaining that sentence. Might be interesting:

https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Usability

Edited 2007-10-27 23:10

Reply Score: 2

troc Member since:
2006-05-01

This definition of usability is based on arbitrary concepts such as 'goals' and 'satisfaction'. This is never going to develop into repeatable or transferable methodologies.

What makes a good sofa, alarm clock or UI ? Who can tell.

You should leave interface design to be the craft that it is; with its market, traditions and apprenticeships. Perhaps one day it will get the respect it craves (and deserves) instead of the derision it so openly invites.

Reply Score: 1

The obligatory John Siracusa link
by StephenBeDoper on Thu 25th Oct 2007 20:26 UTC
StephenBeDoper
Member since:
2005-07-06

The (in?)famous ArsTechnica article on the "Spatial Finder":

http://arstechnica.com/articles/paedia/finder.ars/2

Reply Score: 3

rcsteiner
Member since:
2005-07-12
3d space...
by hobgoblin on Thu 25th Oct 2007 23:15 UTC
hobgoblin
Member since:
2005-07-06

did said test about 3d space navigation involve true 3d, as in virtual reality, moving around in the world and so on?

or did it involve someone sitting with a mouse and keyboard and try to interact with a 3d world on the other side of a 2d display?

while i cant prove it, i have a feel that there could be a difference between the two.

still, one could maybe say that our world is at best a 2.5d world. as in, we cant really float into the air at will, so for us its two dimentions (forward/back, left/right) with at times some kind of height data added as a secondary condition (upper or lower shelf and so on). so when we move from tree A to tree B to get some fruit, we first move in 2d space down tree A, then in 2d space between the trees, and in the end moves in 2d space up tree B.

a bird on the other hand maybe be more adept at finding things in 3d...

btw, i would love being able to switch of my spatial memory when dealing with menus. more often then not i click and then find out that my memory was faulty or maybe the coordination between it and the movements done where not perfect...

Edited 2007-10-25 23:18

Reply Score: 2

RE: 3d space...
by Thom_Holwerda on Fri 26th Oct 2007 07:54 UTC in reply to "3d space..."
Thom_Holwerda Member since:
2005-06-29

did said test about 3d space navigation involve true 3d, as in virtual reality, moving around in the world and so on? or did it involve someone sitting with a mouse and keyboard and try to interact with a 3d world on the other side of a 2d display?


That's why they used not only 3 virtual environments, but also 3 real world ones. In both cases, the results were clear: adding a third dimension makes it harder for people to locate items.

Reply Score: 1

RE[2]: 3d space...
by hobgoblin on Fri 26th Oct 2007 12:09 UTC in reply to "RE: 3d space..."
hobgoblin Member since:
2005-07-06

ah, i guess thats what i get for being unable to access the article itself...

Reply Score: 2

advancements in user interfaces
by jessta on Fri 26th Oct 2007 04:50 UTC
jessta
Member since:
2005-08-17

consistancy is important sure, but if every application is required have the same user interface then there will not be advancements in user interfaces.

The web is a great example of how users amazingly manage to navigate user interfaces that are completely different from each other without much trouble.

Reply Score: 2

RE: advancements in user interfaces
by briber on Fri 26th Oct 2007 06:41 UTC in reply to "advancements in user interfaces"
briber Member since:
2007-03-14

I think it is important to recognize that a user may make a distinction between a web interface and the user interface of a program installed on the user's computer.

Web sites are "out there" whereas local apps are "here".

A user may reasonably expect that everything that is "here" is known and familiar while not having that expectation for anything that is "out there".

Reply Score: 1

Jack Burton Member since:
2005-07-06

"The web is a great example of how users amazingly manage to navigate user interfaces that are completely different from each other without much trouble."

Er... without much trouble ? Well, maybe we've seen different sets of people then.

Reply Score: 2

Main point of article is...
by xiaokj on Fri 26th Oct 2007 14:28 UTC
xiaokj
Member since:
2005-06-30

I still see a lot of people calling consistency freaks like me whiners. When a user complains of an inconsistent user interface - they are definitely not whining.


:-P, Thom...

Nice article to read, but too much emphasis on one thing will make it a bit boring.

Anyway, on the thing about deteriorating spatial memory with the increase in dimensions is more likely tied to 2 things. Logically, it is much more difficult to design good 3d interfaces than 2d ones, which will undoubtedly hinder the use of spatial memory. Referring to keyboard and mouse especially, it is difficult to traverse the 3rd dimension. Regular monitors are also just plain 2d -- no point emulating the 3rd. Unless the time comes when we can have perfect 3d input and output devices, where perfect input refers to high accuracy, precision and huge movement area, and perfect output refers to hologram-like projections, should we talk about it.

Second major factor in spatial memory's failure to span the 3rd dimension is that out ancestors were just plain lazy. Look at the movie industry. How many action movies portray the hero running around in enemy territory right above the minions' heads? Head movement is mostly left and right for a simple reason --- its tiring to move up and down.

Reply Score: 1

"Experts" should be banned...
by Brendan on Fri 26th Oct 2007 17:40 UTC
Brendan
Member since:
2005-11-16

A complete moron would say "people remember where stuff is, so it's good to put stuff in the same place so people don't need to go looking".

It takes the average expert years to develop hard to understand terminology (and many paragraphs of waffle to explain the terminology) just to say the same thing.

Reply Score: 3

RE: "Experts" should be banned...
by westermano on Sun 28th Oct 2007 21:43 UTC in reply to ""Experts" should be banned..."
westermano Member since:
2007-10-28

I agree. This is a common theme on the web when you got people who have no real experience in anything but want to sound smart when they talk about it. There's nothing like writing something with a lot of words and air to help these experts reassure themselves that they're some sort of professional/intellectual. Overthinking and overcomplicating... ah, how it feels to smart.

Edited 2007-10-28 21:48

Reply Score: 1