Monday, November 14, 2011

Stop messing with my user-interface

In the beginning -- there was a row of switches and lights.

That was the interface between man and computer - and it sucked.

Over time, and as technology became more powerful, this interface evolved and became a whole lot more efficient and friendly.

For a while, teletype printers and keyboards ruled. They allowed programs, commands and data to be input in English-like languages and phrases. They also allowed the computers of the day to output information in an easily read and archived form.

Then came the CRT and the electronic keyboard. Suddenly the need to kill a forest simply to initiate a few batch commands or debug a problem was gone.

After a while, the plain, monochrome, character-based CRT display evolved into a pixel-addressable screen capable of displaying tends, hundreds, thousands or even millions of different colours.

Gone was the need to laboriously type in every command using a keyboard -- point and click became the norm once the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Mouse and Pointer) interface took ahold.

Of course it's probably best not to talk about the oft promised but never delivered natural language speech interface but who knows, maybe that too will become practical one day.

So now, in the second decade of the 21st century, we're focusing on the feature-set and ergonomics of our software but still using the WIMP paradigm.

Unfortunately, those who design and implement software seem to be running out of good ideas and I get the feeling that some applications are actually slipping backwards when it comes to the effectiveness and efficiency of their user interfaces.

Strangely enough, I am not alone in this observation and others in the industry have voiced similar concerns over recent updates to popular software.

Just last night I upgraded from Mozilla 3 and 4 to Mozilla 8 (did I miss four versions already?) and I'm not at all happy with the changes I now have to adapt to.

For instance... where's the reload button? As a developer, I use the reload function a lot -- but that important click is now two clicks (right button, point to "Refresh", click). Why?

And why did they move bits around for no apparent reason? Simply so that it looked like a new version rather than a minor revision perhaps?

When I upgrade my software, I don't want to have to relearn a whole bunch of stuff for no real gain in efficiency or ease of use -- that's a false economy.

Are we now reaching a point with user-interface design where our interfaces are so good that any change (especially for the sake of change) is simply a retrograde step?

If so - then I would ask the programmers to please "put down the mouse and step away from the keyboard"

No comments:

Post a Comment