Practice, Practice, Practice
When I am consulting with a client, and navigating on my machine they are absolutely stunned at the speed of me using just the GUI. I have to remind them: I’ve been using GUIs for 30 years — starting from the very first Macintosh, and using various OSes since then (from BeOS to X-windows and back again). Given my use “cross-training” and approximately 40,000+ hours (conservatively) of using practically every type of app, I’d think I would be an expert at efficiently navigating almost any app. As a side effect, I have also gotten very good at spotting good and bad UI. If I don’t know how to do something: I usually know the magic words and the search terms to use. If even I cannot find info quickly, then something about either your apps and/or your documentation is lacking.
While I have often said that a lot of UI changes are simply eye candy, and add nothing important other than “bling” to a design, not all UI changes fall into that category. However, looking back, I noticed my posts have beat around this huge unaddressed important distinction of UI design that pretty much no company and very few active designers today seems to completely understand, judging from the latest and “greatest” products that are just as confusing for experienced users as they are for newbies.
While, we all seem to inherently understand some form of graphic design language, few aside from UI designers are conscious of it. And even fewer of the professionals understand this graphic design language has rules and conventions based on solid interaction principles. They seem to take for granted, that this control is a certain way without question, and either they use it improperly or worse, they break the convention. Both of these problems are caused because the UI designer does not know the reason behind the convention. I am sure many UI designers will rebuff me — and know the reasons behind certain choices, but not all. The problem is, if the designer has read literature or learned UI from someone else that omitted the explanations and reasoning behind the conventions, they only have half an education.