They say you learn something new every day.

Posts tagged ‘user interface’

It’s too Easy (07/02/2012)

I’m designing an internal web application at work. Gathering feedback today, one person said it was “too easy” to use.

It’s an interesting problem to have. Generally things are too difficult to use.

I think there were actually two parts to this problem:

  1. The application was very sparse and didn’t seem like a fully featured application. It reminds me of how Google had to put the copyright bar on the bottom of the bar, because people kept thinking the page hadn’t fully loaded.
  2. It wasn’t giving users enough feedback telling them that things had been finished or achieved successfully. 

To combat both of these things, I redesigned it a bit today to make it look more solid (largely this involved putting a fade on the header background, and a background colour on the main part of the page, with the main text centered).

It was amazing how much of a difference this made. Almost at once the application looked more “solid”. While it wasn’t harder to use, it felt more “solid” somehow. When you clicked the button you felt like you were doing something.

I’m reminded again of how important design is. It’s depressing, I know, but everyone does judge books by their covers.

Apples and Pears (21/01/2012)

I’m a Windows user. Yes, you can stop booing now. But I don’t get Macs. I don’t get why they’re all white. I don’t get why there’s only one mouse button. I don’t get why everyone gets so excited about them being “pretty”. My fridge isn’t pretty (it is white though), but I still like that. Unfortunately, I’ve been required to use a mac at work to run our internal iApp store using xCode.

The process of using it has been a bit of an eye opener as well as a much needed slap in the face. I tend to think I’m good at computers, but using a Mac I feel so left handed. Even the simplest of tasks, like navigating to a downloaded file, is incredibly difficult. This must be how my Mum feels when using a computer. Given this, there are probably some things to learn about teaching people how to use computers.

However, while I’ve been trying to be balanced, there are some elements of the mac user interface that I think are objectively wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some bits that are great. This, for example, is brilliant:

This is brilliant

You can’t tell just how great it is here, because it’s a picture, but in the real one, the fingers move. This is a great way of  explaining a quite complex task.

Of course, like all great things, it looks like this has been shamelessly copied:

Shamless copy

It’s clearly been “inspired” by the Apple feature. But the CGI fingers aren’t nearly as nice as the real ones. Not to mention the fact that there are more tick boxes and closer together in the Windows version.

However, I’m not ready to switch to macs just because they have a nice animation.

One of the big problems with the Apple interface is that too much stuff is hidden and not obvious unless you know it. Take the iPhone. How was I supposed to know that double tapping the click button loads up the “task manager”? I didn’t even realise double clicking the click button was a valid action.

There’s so much of this. To right click, you hold control and click. How is that obvious? I’m reminded a comment a friend of mine made once that good games, and applications, allow you to see the state of play and work out valid moves just by looking at the board or screen. Apple applications hide valid moves away. It creates a clique. Which, to be honest, is probably what they’re trying to do.

Also, I’m with Tog, the Apple dock is rubbish. It’s huge and takes up way too much of my screen estate. I had a Windows dock app once. And you know what, I turned it off. I like the quick start bar in Windows. It’s small. I like the start menu. It’s hidden.

I also find it strange how related items are physically distant from each other. Which is made more apparent in applications that load windows all over the screen. Of course, this is part of the maximizing button behaviour. Maybe I should just accept this as a tom-are-to/tom-ay-to thing (although, let’s be clear: the former is English, the later is American. It’s not a free choice which one to use, it’s an accent!).

But I like my windows maximized to my screen, so I can see what’s going on. Having floating windows encourages me to waste my time organising windows. And dragging and dropping windows is not work.

I think really, there are two things for me to learn here. Firstly, be humbled by my computer abilities. As I’ve said when I started this. I’m stupid. We’re all stupid. And I’m never be anything but stupid. However, if I learn something new every day, I might end up a bit less stupid than I started.

Secondly, UI design is tough. And teaching computers is tough as well. You can never make the design too simple, the text too easy to read or too short. It’s something I continue to work on with my software management application at work. For this to be successful it needs to be really easy to use and the text I send out needs to be so simple people grasp it almost immediately.

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