UX

All posts tagged UX

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.

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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 The conventions useful & familiar with the desktop metaphor have been replaced by a graphic icon collection to open an app suited to the task.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.

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QualtyNerpFowndThis 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.

Sad.

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:

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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.”

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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.

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