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User Interface Design for Programmers 331

ellenf contributes this review of User Interface Design for Programmers. "Aimed at programmers who don't know much about user interface design and think it is something to fear, Joel Spolsky provides a great primer, with some entertaining and informative examples of good and bad design implementations, including some of the thought process behind the decisions. Spolsky feels that programmers fear design because they consider it a creative process rather than a logical one; he shows that the basic principles of good user interface design are logical and not based on some mysterious, indefinable magic." Read on for the rest of ellenf's review.
User Interface Design for Programmers
author Joel Spolsky
pages 144
publisher Apress
rating 8
reviewer Ellen
ISBN 1893115941
summary Aimed at programmers who don't know much about user interface design and think it is something to fear, Joel provides a great primer, with some entertaining and informative examples of good and bad design implementations, including some of the thought process behind the decisions. He feels that programmers fear design because it is a creative process rather than a logical one and shows that the basic principles of good user interface design are logical and not based on some mysterious indefinable magic.

Spolsky's light writing style makes this book an easy read, and his personal stories and anecdotes help make his thoughts on user interface stick in your mind when you're done reading. He provides programmers with a few simple guidelines to follow, such as "People Can't Read," and "People Can't Control the Mouse."

His focus on the logic of good user interfaces and his push to develop a good user model is bound to resonate and get programmers to think about making their interfaces logical from the user's perspective, rather than the perspective of the inner architecture, which the user could typically care less about.

The reminder to focus on the tasks the user is trying to accomplish rather than the long feature list that usually gets attached to product specifications should be read by product managers as well, of course. In fact, the absence of specific platform details makes the book a good read for anyone involved in software design -- with the caveat that it is not aimed at people with much design experience. This is a great starter book and makes the process understandable, friendly, and fun-sounding. (One of the things I appreciated was how much fun it sounds like Spolsky has when he's working.)

Spolsky encourages showing the in-progress software to users and watching them use it. I think one of his best points about usability testing is that if the programmers and designers cannot bother to watch the users during the testing, they're unlikely to gain much from a thick report by a testing lab. He encourages simple, quick, and casual usability testing, something even the smallest firm could afford and from which they would could draw useful improvements.

If you have much design experience, you'll find this book a bit basic, but even then the examples are worthwhile to read and remind yourself how a good idea can be poorly implemented sometimes -- usually by taking it too far! I was personally hoping for some richer comments about designing web applications, but if more people start paying attention to the basic guidelines he's covered here, web users will benefit.

In summary, the book is aimed at programmers without much design experience and Spolsky does a great job of hitting his mark. I think product managers without much design experience would benefit as well, as it provides a good basis for thinking about user interface design.

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User Interface Design for Programmers

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  • by sielwolf ( 246764 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @12:32PM (#7104386) Homepage Journal
    they consider it a creative process rather than a logical one;

    Are we supposed to assume that creative and logical are now mutually exclusive? I always thought they were complementary. I sure as heck wouldn't find computers interesting if it was all rote and mechanics.
  • by kisrael ( 134664 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @12:34PM (#7104417) Homepage
    Most programmer think they know how to do UI.
    (Frankly, I think many of them do, to a certain extent, if they're reasonably smart and understand ideas like not throwing too many options at the novice user)

    It's visual design where the failing comes in. I think.

    Or maybe I'm just generalizing from me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @12:35PM (#7104431)
    and say that programmers shouldn't do UI design:

    Programmers shouldn't do UI design.

    I give you one example: the Linux desktop. No offense, but there is no freaking consistency. Ahh, the examples I could mention, but I got a UI to code...
  • by infochuck ( 468115 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @12:36PM (#7104438)
    Some user just posted an item how she highlighted her work and then hit 'backspace' and deleted everything.
    She wanted to know what we could do for her.
    'Feel bad' was about all we could come up with. 'Laugh' was another, but we didn't think she'd like that.

    Too bad your app was designed by amateurs, and didn't have an "undo" feature, eh?
  • by mveloso ( 325617 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @12:41PM (#7104480)
    The last thing the world needs is more programmers designing user interfaces. Most programmers know they suck at it, and their results are/tend to be pathetic. Nobody knows how many lives have been lost (measured in hours of frustration) by bad programmer-designed interfaces?

    Let's face it, an interface is too complicated for most programmers to handle. A UI can be seen as a multidimentional problem (dimension in the real sense of identifying property) that can be viewed from multiple points of view, and each point of view filters out various dimensions of the program underneath it. It also requires you to be able to actually view things from those multiple POVs.

    So for those programmers thinking about UI, don't do it! Stick with command-line interfaces, and let other people take your code and wrap it in something like AppleScript studio, or whatever.
  • by eln ( 21727 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @12:41PM (#7104484)
    Good UI design just takes a lot of time and a lot of listening. First, you design the interface to do what you want it to do. You try to pretend you know very little about the actual mechanics of what gets done behind the scenes to make whatever it is happen (a difficult proposition, but you should be able to get relatively close). Then, code the interface (just the framework, don't waste a whole lot of time at this point).

    Then, show it to someone representative of the intended audience. If you're coding a general purpose Windows app, show it to your grandmother. See if she can figure out how to work it. Encourage conversation about it. If she can't figure it out, don't get argumentative. Find out what SHE thinks the interface is trying to do, and try to find out what about the interface makes her think that. Then, try to get a few ideas on how to improve it. She won't be able to give you any real specifics, but maybe she can give you a thread you can explore in detail on your own.

    Re-design based on what you learned. Show it to her again. Repeat until she "gets it". Then, go show your new design to someone else in your target group. Make changes by what they say. If what they say contradicts what your grandmother said, do your best to reconcile the differences. Make up any gaps you can't fix with documentation targeted at the bits you can't seem to make any less confusing.

    A lot of engineers fall into the trap of designing interfaces and sticking with them, even if they are deficient. They insist the users are just "too stupid" or just "don't get it" or just "aren't using it right". They fail to realize the whole idea of a good UI is to make sure users CAN'T use it wrong, and to make it as difficult as possible for the user to fail to understand.

    "The customer did something wrong" is NEVER a reasonable excuse for a problem in a UI. If the customer did something wrong, it's YOUR fault for making it possible for the customer to do whatever it was he did wrong.
  • by DrWhizBang ( 5333 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @12:47PM (#7104554) Homepage Journal
    I don't think the intention is for it to be exclusive, but rather that it is not exclusive. The point is that many programmers believe that designing a UI is a creative process, because at some point they designed a UI and they were told it was ugly. This is an unfortunate comment, since the rejection of the UI was more likely on cognitive grounds rather than aesthetic, but the word ugly can apply in either case.

    There are fundamental rules of UI design, and there are UI best practices. When these are adhered to, then the UI will be cognitively appealing to the user. In addition, there are liberties that a UI designer may take, and innovations that can be made (per application) that can add up to a smashing UI. But if you are unaware of the rules and conventions, you will fail to create a good UI, and if you don't even know that the rules exist you may be liable to blame it on a gap in creativity rather than a failure to fulfill a logical design.

    Phew. that was a mouthful ;-)
  • by kafka93 ( 243640 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @12:49PM (#7104580)
    For many developers, I don't think that UI considerations are all that important. I've often spent a long time thinking about, and discussing with users, the best means of controlling a particular (web) application. In practice, though, users tend to spend a bit of time figuring out an interface -- however esoteric or poorly designed -- and then use it without complaints. They may not be using it 'optimally', but they're happy enough anyhow.

    I'm playing Devil's Advocate, I know; but still, when cost/benefit analysis comes into play then there are arguably very many cases where it just doesn't matter how much effort goes into user design: even with the simplest, most elegant interface, users will take some time to figure out how to do things - and besides, many users are now trained into using Microsoft-style interfaces, meaning that they _are_ the 'most usable' format to follow irrespective of classical design/HCI principles.

    Finally, I think that there's a marked difference between having something "look nice" and "be usable". And I think that many developers *are* adept at designing systems that are usable; it's the "prettiness factor" which is more elusive - and which most users tend to care and think about.
  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:03PM (#7104721)

    This psyco-babble about grandma being the target annoys me. Sure everyone is a novice at sometime. However most applications are used by experts. (they started at beginers, but have learned it) How do you support those experts who are doing a task everyday? They have different demands, now your easy to learn app needs to be easy to get the common tasks done with. That is a completely differnent level of design.

    Take configuring the network on windows. It is fairly easy, except for two points: the task itself is complex (Assume that dhcp isn't implimented for whatever reason), and getting it wrong can be serious (though microsoft will detect and prevent a lot of getting it wrong problems, good design there) to the rest of the network. Experts only territory, if you don't know what those fields mean, you should be taught by an expert. Because it is experts only territory, seperating things (DNS from ip/netmask) just slows down the expert who wants to type in a bunch of numbers and move on. The beginner should be turned off by the amount of data there, in hopes that they don't screw things up. (in NT based systems the user isn't given access to change this, more good design) Note that I specificly picked something where making it easy for the beginner makes it harder for the expert, and made the argument that the beginner shouldn't be here anyway - this argument doesn't apply to everything, often you need to support both types of users.

  • by FooBarWidget ( 556006 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:04PM (#7104735)
    Then how do you deal with contradicting feedback? What if users are contradicting each other? A very good example would GNOME: half of the users scream "more options! more options!" while the other half screams "less options! less options!" (this is of course a heavily oversimplified view of the situation; but you get the point).
    I's happened more than once that users contradict each other.
  • by elmegil ( 12001 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:04PM (#7104737) Homepage Journal
    I have to say that unless I am using some tool that is mandated by work, if I have to spend more than about 5 to 10 minutes trying to figure out your user interface, I'm going to go find another solution to my problem. Web sites and web tools in particular are subject to this.

    I do some web design for work, for people who *have* to use my tool to accomplish a particular task, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to make the tool work best for them, simply out of consideration. I hate it when work tools force me to twist my head around some horribly byzantine interface, and I don't want to do that to anyone else.

    As a side note, _Don't Make Me Think_ by Steve(n?) Krug is one of the best introductions I've seen to the topic, and his coverage is quick and to the point. I'd be curious how the book reviewed here compares to it, as described by someone who's read both.

  • Agreed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MisanthropicProggram ( 597526 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:05PM (#7104750)
    I'm not the smartest developer around, but a lot of users like me because I listen to them and try to implement what they want. Sometimes, that means talking to the smart developers to see how to do something so that the users don't have to talk to them; which, I guess is becoming a useful skill these days. ;-) I like to give credit where credit is due. So, when smart developer helps me, I let everyone know it was the smart developer who helped me. That way eveyone is happy. The users get what they want, the smart developer gets credit for his brains, and I get a job.

  • by Zero__Kelvin ( 151819 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:07PM (#7104777) Homepage

    "He feels that programmers fear design because it is a creative process rather than a logical one and shows that the basic principles of good user interface design are logical and not based on some mysterious indefinable magic."

    All too often the terms programmer and Software Engineer are used interchangeably. UI design is the domain of Software Engineers. A programmer should design user interfaces as much as a baker should be enlisted to make a gourmet dinner. Combine this with the fact that Software Engineering is both a creative process and a logical one, and we can begin to see why I continue to question Joel's understanding of Software Engineering. I am not saying the book isn't good. It probably is, as long as you keep these caveats in mind.
  • by kisrael ( 134664 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:21PM (#7104934) Homepage
    And, and one other windows annoyance:
    any (non-browser) program that opens a URL thorugh the OS, be it the start menu, should OPEN UP A NEW FRICKIN' BROWSER WINDOW rather than highjacking an existing one. If I have a window open in the background, there are GOOD ODDS I that I *want* the information that's in there to STAY there. Double Duhhr.
  • by david.given ( 6740 ) <dg@cowl a r k . c om> on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:23PM (#7104959) Homepage Journal
    The argument is constantly made, "What about 'power users' and people who really do need extra functionality?". Fine, OK: put that stuff "under the hood" and document its location and functionality. But don't put in a user config dialog with 27 tab groups, 40 options per tab, with an 'Advanced' button on each one.

    Way back in days of yore, when Microsoft was still working out how to do overlapping windows, there was a company called Geoworks that produced a really nice office suite for the PC.

    I won't go into details about it, but one of the really cool features was that each application had a tunable user interface. For example, you could set the word processor to user level #1 (novice) and it would turn into Windows Write: most of the controls went away, and you ended up with toolbar buttons for italic, bold, underline, etc, plus justification options; you got simple menus that let you pick things like the font and size directly; you got really, really basic page layout features --- I think it let you pick your paper size, and that was it.

    OTOH, turn it up to level #4 (expert) and it turned into Word. There were controls everywhere. Hierarchical editable character and paragraph styles, embedded fields, hyperlinks, a full vector drawing package including rotatable text (also with hierarchical editable styles), a full bitmap drawing package, up to four seperate customisable toolbars, ruler and frame based layout, etc, etc.

    And they used the same files.

    So it was perfectly possible for Precocious Teenager to log in in expert mode, put together some pretty templates, and then Grandma could log in in novice mode and type text into them with simple formatting. Mum and Dad could use levels #2 or #3, which gave you more features without the overwhelming complexity that level #4 gave you.

    It was such a startlingly good idea that I am not at all surprised no-one appears to have done anything similar.

    (Hmm. You might still be able to download an evaluation copy here [], but I suspect it's a pig to run on a NT-based Windows. Worth a look, though, if you want to be amazed at what it's possible to do on a 2MB real-mode DOS machine.)

  • by Ilan Volow ( 539597 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:35PM (#7105115) Homepage
    Users rarely complain about badly designed user interfaces. They accept that computers are nasty, evil devices that make their lives hell and prevent them from doing work as much as possible. They say nothing to you, and then they come home to their families and say "I hate computers".

    An end user not complaining about a bad UI is like somone complaining that a torture device like the rack is "uncomfy". It's just accepted that the experience will suck.

    There is so much general computer-phobia in the world because end-users have not yet realized that it's not the computers in general that's the cause of their problems with an application, but rather it's the individual programmers who wrote the application who are the problem.

    Ergonomica Auctorita
  • by CowboyRobot ( 671517 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:43PM (#7105204) Homepage
    Many times in my career as Web developer, I've had the responsibility of taking an existing site and growing traffic. In each case, the sites started out as ugly, since the 'design' was just wahtever seemed adequate by whoever coded the initial HTML.
    The first step of improvement was to get a professional designer to come and fix the site - put together a more useful navigation system, adding breadcrumbs, etc.
    The traffic would always double (at least) after the re-launch. Part of the increase has to do with old users having to deal with a new system, and clicking around more than they used to, but the rise in traffic was consistent over time, because more user-friendly interfaces meant more users could find what they were looking for.
    So, design is not just making things pretty, and it's certainly not art, since art is about personal expression - design is making things useful, or optimizing their usefulness.
    And slick design is often appropriate. If you run an e-commerce site that looks like it was put together by a 14-year old kid with a copy of Frontpage, you will scare away business because they think you're some fly-by-night operation.
    So, spend the money, hire a designer. You can get a decent redesign for a few hundred bucks.
  • by 0x0d0a ( 568518 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:43PM (#7105205) Journal
    Unfortunately, UI can also be an area that should *not* be consumer-driven.

    The recent facination (last five years) with media player authors to make "pretty" interfaces that immediately grab a user's interest is a great example. The UIs are far less usable, are inconsistent, are frequiently slower and buggy...yet authors keep pumping out these damned bitmap interfaces to DVD players, movie file players, audio file players, etc.

    The problem is that every time someone does something with a tiny bit of justification, everyone copies it wrong.

    Bitmapped interfaces have seen two major insurgences that are still present. The first, pointed out earlier, was in media player apps. There are a number of cases, but I think the first instance I know of was WinAmp. WinAmp was trying to fill a hole that had never been filled before. It needed to remain constantly up on a user's desktop to keep title, volume, and position available. However, it needed to save space (see the minimized form) -- I can't think of a good way to provide equivalent functionality using standard widgets. Anyway, a difficult HCI call -- to deviate from the standard OS interface was made. It has definitely had drawbacks, but there's at least a good argument that it was worthwhile.

    Along came a huge number of media player designers, all of whom looked at WinAmp and decided at the bitmapped interface was what made the thing successful. They started churning out all kinds of horiffic unusable media players that *did* catch the eye, and *did* get users to try them out...only to hit irritation with the interfaces. Media players pioneered spikes hanging off of windows.

    The other major example is graphic plugins, dating back to Kai's Power Tools. For those not familiar with the tool, KPT is a set of Photoshop plugins. It was written by Kai Krause, an extremely talented graphics programmer. He felt that using custom bitmapped widgets was a good idea. Again, his decision was somewhat arguable, but it let him showcase some of his software's effects, and more importantly, he did a reasonable job for someone going with an inconsistent interface -- he did a few things that would have been difficult with a conventional widget set. KPT had a tremendous functionality set, and succeeded wildly, allowing the company to grow, change names, and develop and acquire other software products like mad. The company continued to produce other outstanding products, also with bitmapped interfaces (with greater and lesser degrees of justification for their nonstandard interfaces. KPT Bryce is a notable example.

    Naturally, a number of other, less talented, Photoshop plugin development companies that were producing products that were not particularly price-competitive or feature competitive looked at KPT and said "Gee...KPT uses a bitmapped interface and is successful. That must be what we're missing." Over the next few years, a *flood* of inconsistent, bitmap-interfaced Photoshop plugins hit the market. These were, as a rule, less well-done than the original KPT, and were a complete pain in the ass for a set of people that mostly used Macs, and had traditionally had one of the most consistent user interfaces in the history of personal computing.

    Bitmapped, custom interfaces are almost always a bad idea.

    There was also an influx of CD-ROM based titles with bitmapped interfaces starting in the early CD-ROM days. Lots of low-budget titles, educational titles, etc. Macromedia Director played a major role in the proliferation of these. Again, a bitmapped interface added nothing to usability, and frequently exposed bugs. It took a few years, but eventually designers realized that users didn't *like* atrocious bitmapped interfaces, and stopped.

    Today, almost all games have a menu system that uses a nonstandard, bitmapped interface. Part of this is because they often have console ports, where there *is* no standard widget system, and part of it is because there's a perception that the customer *wants* a m
  • by arashiakari ( 633150 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:46PM (#7105245) Homepage
    It takes a LOT of work to make good user interfaces, and nearly all of that work is repetitive and boring. It is easy to create inconsistencies, too. Programmers who just want to work on core or library-type routines are a dime a dozen because they basically don't have to know much about the end use of the app, just the technical requirements of the toolkit they're writing. Sort these records, rip this data from a file into memory, pack these strings into this byte array, etc. They are generalized functions that get used over and over, so there is some satisfaction in perfecting them and a need for them to be optimized. UI programmers have to know as much as possible about the people using the program, the business model that the end users have (why are they using this feature/function?... what is the ultimate goal?), and the types of environments it gets deployed into. It puts more of a burden on their mind as they work.

    UI design on the other hand requires a TON of manual labor that cannot be done by anyone but a good programmer. You have to account for all the little things that a user just might do to your UI while maintaining the state of the form/program. That means coding responses to any number of potential events that might be fired instead of just letting the OS decide what will happen. UI design is frustrating and boring for most people because of this. If you have a form that has 60 fields on it spread over several tab pages and you have a status bar with an explanation of each field, you instantly have 120 callback functions, an enter and exit to and from each field to update that status line with that field's description and then to clear it. You have to write form field validator routines that check each field's data before packing it back into the database, issuing the right kind of error if the data is unacceptable. Heck, just the task of plugging all the database fields into the form elements can be painstaking for a form of moderate complexity.

    And all the code has to be consistent, clean, etc, so the next guy knows what is going on. To impliment ONE well-designed form can take days of uninterrupted programming time. Forms with many many fields just slow things down even more... halfway through the afternoon your mind is swimming in a sea of callbacks and field names. Debugging a form? Don't go there.

    I think basic "quality application interface programming," not even design, is the most underappriciated aspect of the complete software engineering task. If you had to pick just ONE THING to say, "We're going to make absolutely sure we don't **** this up." ... this would be it after (out of obvious necessity) the data engine and memory model.

    To make an analogy: The UI programming is like the Marine Corps (boring sweaty grunt work) like the "rest of the job" is to being an Air Force fighter pilot.
  • by Contact ( 109819 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @01:58PM (#7105373)
    Warning, contains advocacy...

    Windows isn't any better. Sure, CTRL X/C/V are fairly standard, but anything more than that is terrible.

    Want to do a "find"? Well, it's CTRL-F... usually. Unless you're in Outlook, where CTRL-F does forward, and find is (intuitively!) F4. Oh, except for the main message list, where Find doesn't have a shortcut at all, but advanced find is CTRL-SHIFT-F. And don't get me started on third party apps like Textpad (which is a great app, but uses F5 for find and F8 for find/replace).

    Button location is another bugbear. OK and Cancel randomly move around dialog boxes, swapping positions with merry abandon. Always assuming they're present, of course - dialogs are sometimes closed with "Ok", sometimes with "Close", both doing the same thing (often in the same application. Sometimes there's a close box, sometimes not.

    A much more consistent interface is the mac, for historical reasons. Find is always CMD-F in every major application. Closing a window? Always CMD-W. Quit an app with CMD-Q. When it comes to dialog boxes, Apple doesn't just specify the names of buttons - they tell you where they should be placed (to the pixel), how they should work, what types of icon should be shown for each type of alert and so on. Sure, apps don't need to follow the guidelines - but they pretty much all do, simply because anything that doesn't just looks "wrong" to mac users who are used to consistency.

    It always bugs me when I see linux advocates pushing coders to take Windows as an example of a good interface. It's a dreadful interface (admittedly much improved recently), and despite Apple's recent minor UI setbacks in OS X, it's still by far the best designed interface available. Don't just copy the style - if you understand why the mac interface was designed that way it was, you'll be able to produce something nicer than 90% of apps on any other platform.

  • by frufry ( 207765 ) <reedlauber@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @02:03PM (#7105453)
    When developers design UIs there's always the problem that they know exactly how the system works and because of that they lose perspective on what makes sense to others. In my experience, though, that's not what most frequently causes bad designs. Our designs usually go astray because we don't choose the right audience. If you're building a web server, for instance, you can safely assume that anyone using the server's UI will have at least a decent mastery of software and how to use it (even if they know anything about web servers). Thus, not everything needs to be all wizarded-out.
    However, if you're building a new instant messaging client, for instance, perhaps you want to make sure the dumbest possible user, who can scarcely use a mouse, can use the software without trouble.
    Generally, the more you build something in the interest of the dumbest users, the more the UI suffers for more savvy users. So, assuming that no one can use a mouse, isn't always a good starting point.
    The key is to figure out who your target audience is, try to design for the vast majority of them (probably leaning a little towards the dumber ones), and perhaps decide on acceptable "casualties" for the few absolute dumbest of that range, in the interest of the rest.
  • by Simon ( 815 ) * <simon@simon[ ] ['zon' in gap]> on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @02:12PM (#7105586) Homepage
    That is why it is a good idea to watch what users are doing and what their goals are. What users think they need, and what they really need are often not the same thing. Users are users, not usability experts.

    'Options' are good case in point. Often people want extra options to un-break some poorly chosen UI behaviour or functionality. It is beter to find out what is really causing the problem and fix that.


  • by Simon ( 815 ) * <simon@simon[ ] ['zon' in gap]> on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @02:23PM (#7105718) Homepage

    The phrase "computer literate user" really means the person has been hurt so many times that the scar tissue is thick enough so he no longer feels the pain.

    -- Alan Cooper, "The Inmates are Running the Asylum", 1999


  • by lightspawn ( 155347 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @02:28PM (#7105759) Homepage
    it probably came down to the fact that most users will have a small number of files in the given folder (assuming the app brings up the dialog with an appropriate folder selected). With the two- or three-column format you get instead of the Details view, there's a good chance that all of the user's files will be visible and clickable without scrolling or changing any settings.

    If anything, most novice users will have all their files in very few directories.

    If Microsoft had actually bothered to observe users interact with their software they would have caught and fixed this problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @02:55PM (#7106164)
    You first state that "UI can also be an area that should *not* be consumer-driven"

    But your following supported text basically complains about poor bitmapped menu systems. I think your missing the point. UI is about User Interface-ing with your software. Good UI is about the user being able to use your software effectively. The point of the book was for people developing software to take this into consideration and use some simple User tests of how the User Interfaces with the software. Note where the User is having issues and work on improvements. You can only get to this point by going to the consumer (User). Your UI can be bitmapped and still be highly effecient if you take the right approach at building a great UI. Which involves "consumer driven" Tests. So i think it's unfortunate that you feel you shouldn't go to the consumer to drive the interface. I think this book was meant for you to read, becuase you think you alone - hammering away at the keyboard - understands all the different ways people use software.

    Useable = Cool
  • by stonecypher ( 118140 ) <stonecypher@gma i l . c om> on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @03:28PM (#7106620) Homepage Journal
    For non-text selections, backspace (on Windows, not Mac OS) should not delete selections. That's what the delete key is for.

    What are you talking about? Can you name one major application which behaves in this fashion?

    Both backspace and delete are removal keys. The difference is solely in the direction in which they remove, and when the block is pre-specified, the difference is moot.

    and feel like ridiculing users will somehow socially elevate them

    Speaking as a former tech support employee, I can firmly say that for me and my coworkers at the time, it was more an issue of catharsis. I've also been a telemarketer, and the flak I recieved as a technical support staffmember was far worse.

    The customer acts as if it's the ISP's fault that the phone company has hosed their phone line again. The customer acts as if it's the ISP's fault that little timmy has fux0red their modem settings again. The customer acts as if it's the ISP's fault that they've forgotten their password again.

    When I was tech support, I was one of two support monkies that I never saw reduced to tears in the course of about two years, and I came damned close more than once. I suspect you've no idea the sort of abuse that irate assholes subject tech support people to. So, when a user is shocked that the same thing that would happen in any application has happened here and can't be bothered to find and hit undo (I don't care what the AC said about it being a web application; undo works just fine in IE 3-6, Netscape 2-4 and Mozilla,) I think that the tech support crew is fully within their rights to be annoyed.

    For the sake of professionalism, this may not be shown to the user, which the poster was careful to be clear that they did not do. Perhaps you've just got a bias towards hating technical support. Of course, if you're an Earthlink customer, I understand wholeheartedly; I'm convinced that they actually go to significant effort to find the bottom of the barrel people available.

    I'd like to see a couple of said jackass tech support people be laughed at by the mechanic

    Not very in touch with pop culture, are we? It is a classic truism that the service industry is mistrusted, shat on, and that the customer defends their actions by presuming that the service industry members all do this, and that they had done it first is somehow implied. You've really never heard a story about getting screwed by a car mechanic? I'd be hard pressed to find a less damning example, except maybe a used car salesman.

    Hint: the services which get it the worst are the ones which people feel tied to without alternatives (utility monopolies especially,) the ones which cost the most (auto mechanics get it doubly because cars with failings often have other failings on the horizon, and the users which allow them to fail don't maintain well, leading to cascade failures which they blame on the mechanics,) and the ones they understand the least (plumbers and computer techs get this one a lot.)

    It's really about insecurity. As you enter a service industry, you find that the more the customer knows about their service (on the average) the less horrible they are to you. If you can explain a delay or a problem to them, they're generally much more tolerant. The people which are the worst are the huge clueless fucks, especially the ones which don't know that they're clueless fucks, doubly especially the ones which think they're something other than a clueless fuck. Do you get shat on by tech support a lot? Could this be a hint?

    (which they're unable to fix, despite the fix being a quick, five-minute change)

    I'm willing to bet you're a moderate quality amateur mechanic, hence the choice of looking down this particular nose. Can you replace your sink? Can you pull up your floorboards? Have you ever installed a ducted air conditioner? Can you plan a seeding cycle? This is the sort of arrogance which nearly every professional
  • Oh that is genius, I salute you.
  • by iSwitched ( 609716 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @05:06PM (#7107883)

    Just a quick note to add that I too have Steve Krug's "Don't make me think" [] on my top shelf. This book is about sensible web design, but many of it's principles, including the concepts of "Usability Testing on 10 cents a Day" apply to any GUI design project.

    As a side note, my whole career I've pretty much specialized in putting GUIs on things -- I haven't stopped laughing at some of the posts in this thread since I started reading it -- If the sum of slashdot posts is any indication, GUI design is really totally misunderstood by the average developer.

  • mobile phone UI (Score:1, Insightful)

    by cerebralpc ( 705727 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @08:22PM (#7109481)
    I use to have a Nokia 3310 - it had a great UI - only three buttons to navigate - but mostly you just clicked the middle button to get to most stuff. It was a bit of an old clunker (to big) so I got a sexy new Errison T335. Terrible UI - I didn't release how spoilt I was - it was so difficult to navigate. It was so bad I changed back to my old clunker Nokia 3310. Next chance I got I swapped back to a much smaller Nokia 6510 - this one has 5 navigation buttons - not as good a UI as the 3310 but very similiar. Note: I don't work for Nokia - just my experience with mobile phones I've owned.
  • by kubrick ( 27291 ) on Wednesday October 01, 2003 @09:34PM (#7109938)
    It's always fascinated me how linux advocates will gloat about how microsoft spends millions on Windows security and ends up with an incredibly insecure OS, but are totally unwilling to believe microsoft can spend millions on usability research and wind up with a completely unusable interface.

    Not to defend that attitude, but for many people 'usable' is defined as 'I learned it this way, so it must be right.' It's an area where the majority can be right (for some value of 'right') simply by weight of numbers. (This is different from security, which has more objectively specified benchmarks.)

Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject -- the actual enemy is the unknown. -- Thomas Mann