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.
The commercially available GUI is now over 30 years old. We all know that what was once a paradigm altering way that communications engineers, researchers & computer scientists could interact with their machine has firmly cemented itself in the landscape of interfaces, as the mice and trackpads that came with it. Initially the GUI was called a novelty that would quickly wear out its welcome by companies that have since staked everything on their misunderstanding of how a GUI should act. Now that a more common use paradigm is direct touch. The conventions useful & familiar with the desktop metaphor have been replaced by a graphic icon collection to open an app suited to the task. Again people who’s thinking is still bound by conventions of prior use paradigms that either work poorly or not at all without alteration to fit into new paradigms is hobbling the efficiency of their user base. The base-line of porting UI to a tocuh UI has been accomplished: where it was a double click to open, it is just one tap; where it was a menu bar window, it is now a navbar & bottom “tab/panel/view.”
However, Before this current paradigm shift happened, the GUI had already been mutating between versions & various OS platforms until new conventions were tried & failed or took root. Often multiple ways to interact are allowed in most desktop OSes, & between platforms some interactions are preferred, while other are simply cumbersome. Somewhere along the way the fundamentals of UI design were forgotten & exchanged for the slickest looking UI and usability took a backseat to aesthetics because the people who placed aesthtics fist didn’t realize that aesthetics and usability are tied together. Thus the interactions needed to perform an advanced task became unnecessarily cumbersome, and furthered the knowledge gap between the novice and the competent.
This is actually the first time in a long time I am not taking an iTunes update, given that it doesn’t fix the graphic artifact during scrolling issue, and other users are reporting worse things happening. In retrospect, I should have stuck with 11.x . iTunes 12.x is looking more like Windows Millennium everyday.
This was once SoundJam, an app so good that Apple bought it. But this is now another example of an app in the care of a company too big to care to give it the attention to detail, and true UI/UX modernizations and feature enhancements an indie would have. A third party company would have listened to their customers or face declining sales. Apple is too big to truly care about the declining quality of iTunes. Whomever is sitting in charge of shipping product quality control is obviously not paying attention, and this toxic style of management is what can and has brought once great companies down.
Since v4 the only “improvements” have been cosmetic and the addition of the various stores. Apple has never addressed iTunes key failings and has instead focused on bloating it u to the point where once loyal users are looking elsewhere for leading edge features.
But this isn’t really about Apple. Apple is really an example. This is about a mentality epidemic in proportion of people who think that marketing, money or someone else can make up (or take the blame) for subpar products. The logic is as follows:
Most tech savvy people have a wish list floating around on NewEgg or Thinkgeek or some other site — I have 4 I can think of without effort. Some of us even keep a private list of gift ideas for others at various sites and occasionally make a note of something we see in a store only to forget about it or be unable to find it among the many notes me make — whether within an app or on paper — when it is around gift giving time. The problem is most people do not have 1 convenient place they can keep track of all the items from across the web that they find for themselves or others. I have various want lists I have forgotten about as well and from time to time I go back and remove things that would have been impulse purchases had I bought them instead of wish-listed them. So, the utility of a gift list minder app that is not tied to a single retailer is a necessity—especially at this time of year. However, after using his a few years, I realized that this app fills that void of when you see something perfect no where near their birthday or a gift giving occasion.
If you want to solve a problem people have been banging at for a long time, the last thing you do is look at it from the same angle as everyone else, and that is exactly what tech pundits are guilty of doing. Microsoft in its latest round of Windows 8 updates, seems to have further muddied its interface trying to be all things to all people.
Long ago, I wrote that paradigm awareness is paramount in designing a good UI. However, Microsoft, being blind to both accommodating and leveraging environmental differences decided that slapping the exact same UX on products for 2 completely different use paradigms would be easier for users to learn and more efficient. Based on my experience and user feedback, nothing can be further from the truth.
Finally the tech pundits are waking up to the fact that Windows 8 should not be all things to all people. But they are stopping short of the logical solution I mentioned years ago because they are still looking at computer users using the wrong categorization scheme: business/“productivity” and home/consumer/“casual”/“consumption.”
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.
I haven’t posted anything for a while. Hey, I’ve been busy, you’ve been busy—we’re still friends right?…
I wrote this to a site that offers both purchases and online content today. I have modified it to remove references to the company. It should be obvious that some companies are already doing this but for darker reasons. Also, I am not aware of any company doing this within their particular area of interest.
It seems like only months ago I wrote this entire article in one sitting after pulling out comments I made to Mark via email on Josh’s views. Then had to mercilessly cut out about a third of it and rewrite parts over the next few days. But that’s because I’m old, and going off on tangents is the law. That or I have a lot to say about UI. So, what do I touch on (no pun intended) in part 2? You’ll have to read it to find out.
I was initially very hesitant to start a blog. Who the hell cares about what I think or what I do? The only people that might care, I talk to in person or via IM, regularly. But a funny thing happened since I established my first blog years ago: I realize that things obvious to me regarding technology and its proper use and abuse, were not so clear cut to others.
I have always seen over the next hill when others are staring at the road, and a few are looking at the top of the hill as far as where tech is going. I know the ultimate purpose of technology that practically everyone seems to forget. I know that all the current mainstream interfaces will eventually be replaced by things that are only in laboratories now. And I recognize that even those could be superseded by more refined technologies that would look like magic to anyone not paying attention.
I just looked at my almost 1800 word opinion piece I submitted to draft status on Dice this morning, and I feel guilty that my editor will have to read it all and whittle it down to a more usable format. I am pretty sure my wanton dreaming of a new set of UI conventions: “STIG” will hit the cutting room floor. If that happens, look for it here next week.
Stay “tuned” for my thoughts on Touch User Interfaces. (link forthcoming…) My tentative title for it is “TouchUI & The Misunderstood Paradigm.” I think it’s catchy, but SEO might not. :) If you read my blog posts you already know where I stand, this is just more elaboration on how I would make a Touch User Interface, the “SOOMY Tao” Rule and how far we still have to go. In my humble opinion user interfaces have barely scratched the surface of what they could be.
Speaking on Phase 2.5: At some point I will probably write about a new yet old interface that recalls a toy of decades past, that just needs a bit of an update: some styling love and sophisticated circuitry running XLP hardware. It could probably by developed and sold for less than $100. It could also be discreetly embedded in discrete common products to whittle manufacturing costs down to just the chips, circuitry and sensors needed. If you actually included kinetic energy generation you could conceivably power the device primarily through movement. Yup more wanton dreaming… Inspired by SciFi Books and Childhood dreams of Asimov’s “Significantly Advanced Technology.”
UPDATE20120507: The Article has been split in two, and will be run soon.