Linked by Julian Fietkau on Fri 11th Mar 2011 09:55 UTC
Graphics, User Interfaces Over the past few decades, the software that enables us to be productive with our computers has become increasingly sophisticated and complex. Today's UI designers are faced with the challenge of devising graphical user interfaces that are easy to grasp and use, yet still provide access to a wide range of features. Here are some ideas about the nature of GUI complexity, followed by a couple of thoughts on simplicity that might just surprise you.
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JulianFietkau
Member since:
2005-07-07

Please don't hesitate to let me know what you'd like to read about in a followup article. Off the top of my head, here are a few aspects about which I could write something at least vaguely competent:

- What methods are there to help software developers create usable interfaces? (That is, before user tests and all that, how do you come up with a good interface in the first place?)
- What, if not its simplicity, helped Apple's iPod to become the big success that it is?
- How did Microsoft come up with the Ribbon and what can other UX people learn from it?

To clarify, this isn't a vote for the most popular topic, I'm just trying to gauge if there's anything particular that's really interesting to you.

Reply Score: 2

ephracis Member since:
2007-09-23

I think that error messages and text in all is an interesting part. Communication!

Error messages are of course lovely, since there's tons of examples of error messages that does not help the user at all. A good application should be able to handle problems in an elegant way.

Too much text is also a big problem, since users won't read it. So here's the thing: what is the best way to communicate with the user? The balance between images and text as well as using the users memory (familiarity).

Another interesting but somewhat subtle aspect of communication is the tone of it. Do you want to come off as mechanical and corporate or do you want to sound like what a friend would have sounded like if he was standing beside him and explaining the application?

The message "Your request contained an illegal action" is bad because it puts blame on the user (the word illegal is very loaded).

Anyway, there's a lot of interesting stuff to talk about when it comes to usability design. The Firefox journey is also interesting since it contains the original Mozilla browser, the whole Mozilla Suit, the creation of Firefox which became Firefox 3 and now Firefox 4 is present a new design yet again. It has been up and down several times. Which could be an interesting analysis.

Reply Parent Score: 2

JulianFietkau Member since:
2005-07-07

I've added error messages to my imaginary list. I suppose I could write at least half an article on that topic alone. Have you read Jef Raskin's The Humane Interface, by chance? I find some of his opinions a little eccentric, but he makes several very good points about error messages that I'll probably cite if/when I write an article about the topic.

And even though I personally use Firefox, I probably don't have enough experience with the history to write about it, or it would involve a ton of research beforehand. So don't count on me writing about that. ;)

Reply Parent Score: 1

spiderman Member since:
2008-10-23

That was a good article. Can't wait to read the followup.
I think accessibility is an interesting subject in UI design. Sometimes a UI design is simple for 90% of the people but extremely complicated for the rest. How to design a good UI that is simple and accessible for more people? Good color choices, separating content from presentation, using accessibility standards and methods, etc...

Reply Parent Score: 2

JulianFietkau Member since:
2005-07-07

Unfortunately I don't have very much experience in that area, so apart from the obvious things regarding color and all that you've already mentioned, I don't think I'd be qualified.

If we're not strictly talking about software, then I encourage you to take a look at Design Meets Disability by Graham Pullin. From what I've heard and read about it, it's apparently an excellent book for understanding product design with people with disabilities in mind.

Reply Parent Score: 1

wannabe geek Member since:
2006-09-27

I'd like you to comment on the topic of why there's a perceived dichotomy between the power and conceptual depth of the UI and its usability and coolness, and what could be done about it. I mean, why geeks love ugly UIs like the command-line and keyboard shortcuts, why most GUIs are so difficult to script and combine, why the mouse is associated with self-explanatory UIs and the keyboard evokes dauntingly obscure incantations; what are the key issues, is it interactivity vs batch processing, verbal representation vs graphical representation.. and what is so special about verbal representations in programming? Is it a good idea to make communication more graphical and graphics more "verbal"? Should our documents all look like bland defaults (boring) or should they be as unique as physical documents (confusing). Why are defaults so bland, and what if you want a specific bland look for your document which happens to be the default look? (what's the best way to deal with abstraction and escaping).

I have some vague ideas on what a dream UI would be like (maybe something between Croquet and Tangible Functional Programming), but I'm sure your views are much more interesting.

Reply Parent Score: 2

JulianFietkau Member since:
2005-07-07

Some of those are pretty fundamental questions and I don't know if I would be able to answer them with a featured article, but I'll just try it right here:

With Don Norman's definition of complexity in mind, I'd say that the mouse has a rather low intrinsic complexity compared to the keyboard. It allows us to move something (a cursor, most of the time) around on the 2D plane, and to "click" to induce an action, and that's pretty much it. In contrast, the keyboard offers dozens of discrete possibilities for input, hundreds if you count every possible key combination using Ctrl, Shift or Alt.

Assuming that geeks are people who use their computers often, it seems obvious that they'd be looking for ways to speed up repetitive tasks. The keyboard is a great way to speed things up, because you have the aforementioned hundreds of ways to instantly tell the computer to do something. Every geek realizes at some point in their life that it is much faster to press Ctrl+X than to navigate the mouse to "Edit", click, navigate down to "Cut" and click again.

If it's faster, why doesn't everyone do it this way? Because keyboard combinations, just like the commands in any CLI, need to be memorized to be used, and that's not a priority for non-geeks. They use the mouse because that way the feature is discoverable. The mouse has, by virtue of its limitied possibilities for interaction, broken down the complex task of hitting exactly the right two keys on your keaboard to a sequence of simpler steps: moving the mouse, clicking, and then moving and clicking some more. What's noteworthy about this, is that precisely because it consists of several steps and takes longer to do, the user can get feedback along the way (visual or otherwise) and thus can check if the procedure is going as planned. For people who don't use their computers as often or don't feel as confident using them, the speed loss is an acceptable tradeoff.

Does that answer some of your questions? ;) I have a feeling you've had quite a few own thoughts on this, and I also think you're overestimating me. ;)

Reply Parent Score: 2