Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 19th Dec 2011 20:11 UTC
Google Once upon a time, in a land, far, far away, there were two mobile operating systems. One of them was designed for mobile from the ground up; the other was trying really hard to copy its older, desktop brother. One was limited in functionality, inflexible and lacked multitasking, but was very efficient, fast, and easy to use. The other had everything and the kitchen sink, was very flexible and could multitask, but had a steep learning curve, was inconsistent, and not particularly pretty.
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RE[2]: Comment by frderi
by frderi on Fri 23rd Dec 2011 09:50 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by frderi"
frderi
Member since:
2011-06-17

I happen to have at hand a nice book about usability in software UIs which I find very well-written.


I happened to have read a couple of them as well. Most of them were written for the traditional WIMP paradigm. While WIMP has served us well, they don't really take into account the unique features of these new devices.

For your information, skeumorphic UIs on cellphone-sized touchscreens fail at


Your perception might differ, but the current surge of smartphones in the marketplace don't really make them a product failure now does it.


1) Why use clearly labeled and visible controls when you can use obscure gestures instead ?


For smartphones, mostly screen estate and handling. There's simply no room for a conventional menu paradigm on a smartphone. But a skeuomorphic design does not need to imply that things are not labeled. You could design a skeuomorphic virtual amplifier where the knobs are labeled (Treble, Reverb, Volume, ...), for example. Only manipulating a knob with a WIMP design is awkward. With touch it becomes a breeze.

2) Coherence (Need to explain ?)


Coherence is meant to facilitate predictability. The need for predictability by convention implies the paradigm itself is too complex to be self-explanatory. The first commercial WIMP devices were conceived to be self explanatory in the first place. The menu bar was invented because people would not have to remember commands. It was an essential part of the design that made a Mac to be as self learning as possible. The Xerox Alto and Star, void of application menu bars still required users to remember all the commands by heart, just like the more primitive programs on CP/M and DOS. The goal of the first commercial WIMP computers was that you would not need a manual to operate the computer. (i said goal, if they succeeded is another matter). The point of menus is that you can lookup commands fast, at will and execute them directly if need be. When processor power increased, so did the feature set of applications, and new applications overshot the design limitations of the initial WIMP devices for a great deal, leading to these giant monolithic applications, where most users don't even know or use 95% of the entire application.


-Conventions (Because in the end, your touchscreen remains a flat surface that does not behave like any other real-world object, except maybe sheets of paper. As a developer, attempting to mimick real world objects on a touchscreen is simply cutting yourself from the well-established PC usage conventions and forcing users to learn new UI conventions *once again*, except this time it's one new UI convention per application)


I think you're failing to see the ingenuity of post-WIMP interaces here. I'll give a simple example : The game of Puzzle Bobble. On a traditional WIMP devised system like a desktop computer, its played with the keyboard. Because it is, the imput methods are highly abstracted from the game play itself and gap between what the user sees and what needs to be done to control the slingshot is quite big. So there's an initial barrier to overcome before these movements are stored in motor memory and the control becomes natural. Compared to keyboards, the mouse pointer already lowered this barrier a great deal, albeit not completely. One could design Puzzle Bobble to be played with a mouse pointer, which would lower the bar, but still have quite a few limitations in terms of presicion, and muscular strain when playing for extended periods of time. On a more general note, people who never used a mouse before initially struggle with it as well. On a post-wimp smartphone device, the barrier is much lower than the keyboard or even the mouse. In Puzzle Bobble, the player can manipulate the slingshot directly. He he can play the entire game with one finger, instead of using a multitude of buttons. Because he is able to manipulate the object so directly, things like controlling the velocity of the ball become possible. Things like controlling velocity or force have always been awkward with buttons.

Lets take another example : a PDF reader. You could design its UI with traditional UI elements : menus, resizable windows, scrollbars, ... or you could design it just fullscreen and that you can flick a page with your finger. Which one of the two is more intuitive and more adapted to a smartphone screen real estate?


-Information (Modern cellphones are already bad at this due to the limitations of touchscreen hardware, combined with a tendency to manufacture them in a very small form factor. Attempting to mimick large objects on such a small screen is only a way to further reduce the allowed information density)


Thats why you have things like tap to focus and pinch to zoom, to complement information density.


-Comprehension (Mostly a limitation of touchscreens rather than skeumorphic design, but since touchscreens offer no form of "hover" feedback and mobile phone screens are way too small, developers often resort to obscure icons in order to shoehorn their UIs in small form factors)


I'd argue that comprehension is the biggest drawback of a traditional WIMP design because :

- its interfaces as we know them are highly abstract, there is little correlation between what we see on screenand what humans know outside the world of the computer screen,

- The set of objects in traditional WIMP interfaces are quite limited. This was less of an issue when computers weren't all that powerful and thus couldn't do that much, but the system has since grown way beyond its initial boundaries, making featureful applications overly complex.


-Error management (When you try to mimick real-world objects, you have to ditch most of the WIMP error feedback mechanisms, without being able to use real world objects' ones because they are strongly related to their three dimensional shape)


You could make more direct error messages instead of having to rely on the primitive WIMP feedback mechanisms like dialogs.


-Speed (Software UIs can offer physically impossible workflows that are much faster than anything real-world objects can do. If you want to mimick the physical world, you have to lose this asset, without losing the intrinsically slow interaction of human beings with touchscreens)


I don't agree with you here. Traditional WIMP UI's can be inherently slower as well depending on the use cases. Consider an application that allows you to control the speed and the pitch of audio in real time. Implement it in WIMP-driven desktop or laptop first using the normal HI conventions, then implement it in a Skeuomorphic way on a touch screen. Which will be faster to use? on a WIMP device, you only have one pointer. So you're never able to manipulate both pitch and speed at the same time, requiring you to jump from one to the other all the time with your pointer. On a post PC with multitouch, this problem does not exist.

Another example : Lets make a software synthesizer. Doing it in a WIMP fashion It will most probably consist of an array of sliders, buttons and labeled input fields. A skeuomorphic one will be composed out of virtual knobs and a virtual keyboard. While the first one might be more precise, the latter one will be a lot more intuitive and be a lot more inviting to tinkering and experimenting, triggering creativity a lot more. And it will be a lot more fun to use!


-Accessibility (Give an touchscreen to your old grandpa who has got Parkinson, and see how well he fares with these small interfaces without any haptic feedback. Not a problem with computer mices, which are relative pointers whose sensitivity can be reduced at will)


Traditional WIMP interfaces fail at persons who are blind. Your point being? And, I bet my old grandpa (if he were still alive) would have a much easier time searching whatever he's forgotten today with Siri, rather than typing things into a google like interface on your WIMP device.


[q]
I believe that most of this still holds for tablets, although some problems related to the

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