Linked by Nicholas Blachford on Wed 11th Aug 2004 07:53 UTC
Editorial Computers are complex systems but it's a mistake to assume they need to be complex to use. However, usability is not as easy as it may first seem. It is a different discipline from software development lacking the strict logic or having a "right way". There are only differing requirements and differing collections of guidelines. Making things easy is difficult.
Permalink for comment
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
The myth of the power user
by matt on Wed 11th Aug 2004 18:06 UTC

A "power user" may use features a "normal" user doesnt, but that doesnt mean anything from a design point of view.

The goal of a well designed interface is to make simple things thoughtless, difficult things easy, and impossible things possible. The first is actually the hardest, believe it or not, and something that applications designed for "power users" totally miss out on.

for example, a "power user" will have fifty 8x8 icons on his browser toolbar, while a newbie has 5 16x16 icons. fitts law tells us that the time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to the target, and its size. so that means it takes the newbie significantly (and consistantly) less time to hit those five buttons, then it takes the "power user" what the "power user" gains from not having to navigate through the menus for something like "new window" is more then lost by consistantly taking longer to hit the 8x8 icon for "Back". (note that this has nothing to do with agility with the mouse, its a relative thing)

this is just an example of how catering to a power user decreases overall efficiency. how much do you think when you turn on a light, or open a door? these interfaces require no concious thought to operate, showing that they are very well designed. now, imagine mirroring such kinds of interfaces in the computer world, would that not be beneficial to everyone, including our power user?

a few points.

rarely used features should be in menus and submenus only, there is no reason for them to be on toolbars.

applications should run fine out of the box. a casual user should _never_ have to go hunting for a configuration dialogue. this is accomplished through intelligent defaults.

config panels should be *simple*. if the defaults are sane, then the user will only go hunting for a preference every once in awhile, so options need to be easy to find without all kinds of crud that only five people in the world will ever user. a great example of this is firefox. Tools->Options gives you a very clean and well orginized config panel that does *not* implement everything from about:config.

and the most important of all, consistancy everywhere you possibly can put it. even if your application works different from every other app ever made, at least make sure it works in a similar manner accross the board. an experienced mac user can go onto a mac and is instantly familiar with every application installed. that is solely cause of the apple human interface guidelines being both mature and widly accepted. every app looks, acts, and is operated using the same principles. in such an environment, learning time goes down dramatically.