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Instrumented GIMP To Identify Usability Flaws 416

Posted by kdawson
from the phoning-home-in-a-good-cause dept.
Mike writes "New users of the GIMP often become frustrated at the application's unwieldy user interface. Now Prof. Michael Terry and a group of researchers at the University of Waterloo have created ingimp, a modified version of the GIMP that collects real-time usability data in order to help the GIMP developers find and fix its usability problems. Terry recently gave a lecture about ingimp and the data it collects. During each session, ingimp records events such as document creation, window manipulation, and tool use. A log of these events is sent to the ingimp server for analysis. The project hopes to answer questions such as 'What is the typical monitor resolution of a GIMP user?' and 'Is the GIMP used primarily for photo editing or drawing?'"
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Instrumented GIMP To Identify Usability Flaws

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  • representative ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tregetour (903016) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:37PM (#19817055) Homepage
    I like the idea, but will the folks who use ingimp be at all representative of the user population at large? ... Especially of the user population that would complain about accessibility / usability. Is it worth it or is anyone talking about making such a thing an integral part of any project?
  • About that name... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by R2.0 (532027) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:39PM (#19817079)
    So, if I invent a version that gives data on why the name sucks (the otehr main problem with the program), will the developers pay attention to that too?
  • by woodchip (611770) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:40PM (#19817087)
    I don't remember ever having a problem figuring out GIMP. But it would drive me insane if they start changing things around on me.
  • by junglee_iitk (651040) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:43PM (#19817125)
    There are far too many anomalies of usability, lack of features and intricacies required for Gimp. Today, Photoshop is the industry leader, and anyone doing serious editing is using it. To be successful, Gimp must surpass it in more than one way (the one way being free). Kind of like what Firefox did to IE. Unfortunately, Gimp is no where ready for that. And I get a feeling that it is (heading to) nowhere.

    I have been using Gimp for a long time. When I first installed Linux it was the only program everyone used to talk about. KDE's kolourpaint was not yet there for general purpose paint-brush replacement. I have used it for years under the hood of open-source fanboyism. And I think that is the reason why it has suffered. It had no competition, and now it is just a software which you don't want to open, again.

    Now, I know it is not a paint-brush replacement. But it is neither a Photoshop replacement... and the middle land is already full of other utilities. Inkscape, Krita, ... may be even Blender. The problem is that no one wants to be in the middle. Utilities need to rise to the top, or they face the fate of XMMS. I hope there will be a replacement in GTK too, just to show Gimp how to use the toolkit :)

    PS: posted this on journal before... this is shameless re-posting.
  • by LM741N (258038) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:44PM (#19817129)
    is in getting others to use the program because of its name. Lets have a contest to rename the GIMP.
  • by jellomizer (103300) * on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:44PM (#19817135)
    I though so too. Until I started to use Photoshop, after that I know how to use GIMP a little better because I know of more things to find... But sience I have Photoshop now I rairly need to use the GIMP. GIMPs usability is its major flaw, it has many of the useful feature of photoshop but it is so clunky (and photoshop isn't a good interface) that I probably have made more money from using photoshop then the GIMP even after paying the high cost of photoshop because doing work take so much less time, that I could put it towards billable jobs.
  • GIMP's Typical Use (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:51PM (#19817227)
    If they want to know how GIMP is typically used, that's easy. GIMP's typical and most popular use is for people to say, "Hey, you can edit your photos under Linux with GIMP, and you don't have to use Wine and Photoshop."

    But professionals using GIMP for doing real work? That's atypical. Hopefully that will change.
  • Scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by suv4x4 (956391) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:51PM (#19817229)
    You know, how do you recognize a project is someone's pet project? It's an overcomplicated solution for a problem with a trivial solution.

    Want to find out what makes the GIMP ui suck? Ask the damn users! They won't exactly shy away from telling you.

    I'm a Photoshop user and I have GIMP installed here to use the occasional esoteric plugin functionality. Let me tell you few things you can immediately get busy fixing:

    1. for some reason GIMP developers decided every single thing needs its own window and its own menu bar. It's weird as f*ck: put the entire layout in a single window with integrated panel layout (similar to how Eclipse does it, for example).

    2. each plugin is its own modeless exe dialog that takes arbitrary amount to start after it was called (at which time you can modify the processed image.. sometimes, and sometimes GIMP crashes because of it): create a proper lean plugin API and modal plugin dialog.

    3. the menus and options are all over the place: there seems to be no strategy at all about what goes where

    4. GIMP has really bad startup time, and performance, compared to commercial graphics editors (such as Photoshop)

    5. There's no way at all to organize your layers in a more complex setup: there are no layer groups, layer folder, or anything like that. It's just a big sack of flat layers, that you can select one at a time, and link them together. This is Photoshop 4 level functionality, and most graphics editors are waaaay past that by now.

    6. There are no proper drawing tools in Gimp at all. For a graphics package that claims to be targeted at geeks making icons and web devs making web designs, this is ridiculous. We're forced to fake our ways with selection tools and scripts, which covers only a fraction of what we need.

    7. A personal issue I have with Gimp: no proper grid. I use the grid in Photoshop all the time, set on unobtrusive "pixel" mode, and usually at 8, 16, 32 pixels with subdivisors. In Gimp, no subdivisors, no pixel mode, and for some reason the *mere fast of displaying* the grid, makes everything slow down to a crawl.
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:51PM (#19817239) Journal
    The project hopes to answer questions such as 'What is the typical monitor resolution of a GIMP user?' and 'Is the GIMP used primarily for photo editing or drawing?'"

    Looks to me like they're about to fall into the fallacy that caused Daimler-Chrysler to do a redesign of the Jeep line that killed their market.

    The marketing department looked at what fraction of SUVs were actually used off-road. They came to the conclusion that it was small. So they redesigned their line to be more comfortable on-road at great cost to its off-road performance.

    Turns out that a significant fraction of their market was people who NEEDED the off-road capability - and had the resources to pay for it, reliably buying cars, year after year, through all economic cycles.

    Jeep stopped being the car they needed and became another clone of the rest of the market: "Mall Terrain Vehicles" that LOOK like an off-road car but are really just a funny-looking small/high van that qualifies as a "truck" to escape the fleet mileage regulations. Their guaranteed market went elsewhere and they were in head-to-head competition with a slew of vehicles over which they had no advantage.

    Similarly, Coke looked at all the people buying Pepsi, saw that they were younger and that Pepsi's main difference was that it was sweeter, and replaced Coke with New Coke, which was sweeter yet. Result: People who drank Coke because they liked a less-sweet drink switched to Pepsi.

    And then there was the high-ranking officer in WW II who spent months counting all the bullet holes on the returning bombers, then did a big presentation on how those areas should have armor added. At the end of his presentation a lower-ranking officer asked "Shouldn't we, instead, add more armor to those areas that are only lightly holed? After all, this sample represents only the planes that came back."

    = = =

    I think the same thing could happen here: Paying attention to what people do a lot of just focuses on what you're already doing right - at the cost of ignoring the things that people do occasionally, or only some people do, but which they need to have. Further, the things they do rarely may be used rarely specifically BECAUSE they're hard to use and the interface needs improvement.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:56PM (#19817295)
    And how do you define quality here?

    From the looks of it, it seems you are implying that GIMP is not as good in 'quality' as PS. Of course, by quality, if you meant UI, menubars, you win. If you are talking about some good mathematical algorithms applied to my pixels to modify them the way I want, I am not sure how GIMP is inferior to PS. In fact, I find it better technically then PS. And add availability of lots of scripts and plugins people are developing.

    And, I have used both of it. PS at work, GIMP at home.
  • Another key to remember is that it's free. That goes miles in my book.

    That is an awful mistake for F/OSS fanboys. "Oh, it's free, so we shouldn't complain". This is like being blind to the problem. If it's free and it works, why isn't EVERYBODY using it? (In other words, why is Mozilla Firefox MUCH MORE popular than the GIMP? Think about it).

    Sometimes we can forget that graphical applications are meant to be used by designers who use most of their time retouching photographs and stuff. Here, time is money. And if the lack of usability in the GIMP makes me spend 5 times more the time than I would with Photoshop (and i'm being considerate), it's just not worth switching. To put it another way, Photoshop's user interface _IS_ worth the price. I still can't believe the GIMP guys CANNOT make something as user friendly (or don't want to, which is worse). It shocks me and frustrates me.

    A quote from a designer's blog [intelligentdesigns.net]:

    You know that Linux is ready for governments and businesses when a 30 day review points out DVD and photo editing as the main weaknesses -- and not because there are no Free Code replacements, but because they aren't quite good enough yet. The reviewer only tried two applications, GIMP and Kino. I share his feelings towards the GIMP photo editor, which I regard as an "old school" Free Code project where the developers would rather tell the users why their program is, in fact, highly usable than conducting serious usability tests and making improvements. To be fair, the existing GIMP user base, which is used to the current implementation, may also resist significant changes.

    That is not to say that the quite remarkable GIMP functionality could not be wrapped into a nicer user interface. GIMPShop is one such attempt, which I have not tried. I hope that it will become a well-maintained fork; I don't have much hope for GIMP itself to improve in the UI department. I am personally partial to Krita [koffice.org] which, while still young, seems to have generally made the right implementation decisions, and is truly user-focused (as is all of KDE -- I love those guys). I am not a professional photo editor, so I don't know how mature Krita is for serious work. It is good enough for everything I do.


    Ooooh... what a bold statement! The GIMP is *NOT* user-focused. Don't tell me.

    See, professionals don't want just "a better pile of poo" [lostgarden.com] to do their imaging work. They (and I, too) want something that IS EASY TO HANDLE. Because in graphical applications, form is function. And this is something that many programmers (at least many of those that I've discussed with) simply fail to understand.
  • by griffjon (14945) <GriffJon@NOsPAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @03:59PM (#19817321) Homepage Journal
    Importantly, does ingimp track crashes?
  • by jellomizer (103300) * on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:10PM (#19817435)
    With the extra money in the pocket I can afford extra freedoms, Like being able to go to a movie, with my wife, having better food, nicer riding car... GNU is not free as in freedom is it free as RMS Tells you it is free. Life in a free society requires you to make choices, some of these choices are sacrificing one type of freedom for an other. If I chose free software all the time even if it is less of an overall value then I choose to loose the ability to use other forms of freedom. There is nothing stopping me from having GIMP and Photoshop on my same computer. So overall with Photoshop and the ability to use the GIMP on my system I have not loss any freedom. I support and applaud people who Make GPL software, they are doing a good thing... But if their tool doesn't work for me I don't want to feel trapped and not able to use non GPL alternatives.
  • by DogDude (805747) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:38PM (#19817815) Homepage
    Maybe there's a really good reason that Photoshop does things the way it does. It's designed for professionals, and hasn't changed a whole lot in at least a decade, so I gotta figure that for professionals, Photoshop is made to work the way most graphics professionals need it to work. The layer thing IS complicated, but from what little I know about graphic design, all of that stuff is very useful (necessary?).
  • by Laur (673497) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:47PM (#19817921)

    Then who defines what is "stupid" and what is not?
    While I see what you are saying, naming your software with the same name (or acronym) as a derogatory term is pretty stupid by any criteria. Ask yourself, would you use the New and Improved Graphics Generation and Enhancement pRogram? Would you tell your friends about it? Would you suggest it to your boss?
  • by Fred_A (10934) <fredNO@SPAMfredshome.org> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @04:50PM (#19817953) Homepage
    Because those people as usual either don't need a complex graphics applications nd therefore won't learn how to use it or have used unlicensed copies of PhotoShop for years and hate Gimp because it's interface isn't the same ("waaah, it's not the same menu, I have to use the second button of the mouse, the horror")...

    The last time I used PhotoShop was on a MacII, before porting it to Windows was even considered. I've been using Gimp since the first release and never found its interface to be unusable. The Gimp is well documented and fairly easy to learn. I currently use it for my photo correction and retouching needs and it works just fine.

    Like a poster mentioned above, I'm fairly sure I never could do as much with PhotoShop without spending a significant amount of time learning a new complicated piece of software. Which I'll never do because PS costs around 1000 €s in Europe and because it doesn't run in Linux anyway (which is what I happen to do my work in).

    So Gimp and Krita suit me just fine (along with BibblePro and digiKam).
  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:05PM (#19818137) Homepage

    Two hours later, I gave up on its bizarre layer model and just installed the GIMP so I could get some work done.
    GIMP and Photoshop have essentially the same layer model as far as I can tell. Can you explain what was hard to use about Photoshop's layer model? Also, since you like to use GIMP, can you answer some of the complaints about the UI that other people have posted? For example: (plagiarized from another post)

    1. for some reason GIMP developers decided every single thing needs its own window and its own menu bar. It's weird as f*ck: put the entire layout in a single window with integrated panel layout (similar to how Eclipse does it, for example).

    2. each plugin is its own modeless exe dialog that takes arbitrary amount to start after it was called (at which time you can modify the processed image.. sometimes, and sometimes GIMP crashes because of it): create a proper lean plugin API and modal plugin dialog.

    3. the menus and options are all over the place: there seems to be no strategy at all about what goes where

    I find these issues to make GIMP nearly unusable. I'm always fighting with it. How do you get around these problems?
  • User interfaces... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:12PM (#19818205) Homepage Journal
    See, professionals don't want just "a better pile of poo" to do their imaging work. They (and I, too) want something that IS EASY TO HANDLE. Because in graphical applications, form is function. And this is something that many programmers (at least many of those that I've discussed with) simply fail to understand.

    Ok, some questions, then. What if an interface offered approaches more consistent than Photoshop's or GIMP's? For instance, in the main toolbox, both Photoshop and GIMP mix area selection tools (eg, rect, ellipse) with tools that actually modify the image using areas (eg, smudge, fill.) Because of this, the only way to know what a tool in the tool box will do is to become familiar with it; the location (in the toolbox) doesn't define the type of functionality. What if the area selection tools were in one toolbox, and tools that modified the image were able to be placed in another - perhaps just the ones you think you'll need today? In terms of usability, this type of approach associates physical location with function; this *should*, theoretically, enhance usability.

    The same thing applies to layers. Photoshop's interface treats layers like they were not images, rather, as if they were only components of images. But essentially, they are images, as demonstrated by the ability to select one and edit it as if it was the image. What if a four-layer image allowed you to see, and edit, all four layers at once, just as if they were normal images, while changes to the sum of all the layers, let's call that the "master" image, are visible in yet another window? Wouldn't that be more consistent than treating a layer as if it were something other than an image? It provides direct, and simultaneous, access to everything at once (many layers begin to bring window management into the equation, but those skills are even more basic than anything inside an image editor.)

    Before you answer, I would like to point out to you how many complaints that couch themselves as usability complaints refer to an application not working "like" Photoshop, and how often the phrase "industry standard" is brought up; it seems to me that when complaints of this type are voiced, they refer to learning the person has already done, and they want *compliance*, because they already have (a set of) muscle memory that they work with. They actually don't want better or easier, because better and easier is different, and different will impede their progress while they learn (if they are even willing to learn!)

    I make decisions about these precise things as part of my job; I'd be very interested in specific opinions from anyone on these issues.

  • by VJ42 (860241) * on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:19PM (#19818301)

    Why do people so often complain about GIMP's UI, and not about the fucking awful user interface of Photoshop(TM)?
    I totally agree, as a casual user, I actually find GIMP easier than Photoshop. However, as I noted above I'm not letting GIMP off that easy, IMO it's not competing against Photoshop(do Pros use GIMP?), for me, it's competing against the likes of Paint Shop Pro (and other mid range image manipulation packages), which is a hundred times easier to use than either.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:28PM (#19818437) Homepage
    As a person that uses both daily the ONLY part of gimp I dont like is the same crap that all other software pulls.

    From version to version ,dont change where a function or item is. They moved the lighting effects all over the fricking place. and every new version seems like it's a damned easter egg hunt.

    Photoshop does NOT change locations of things very often. (V4.0 compared to V8.0(cs) does have some different locations but not many)

    it's what pisses off every windows user when a new release comes out. "where did they hide function "XXXXX" this time!

    After using a new version of gimp for a few days, it's as usable as Photoshop. Some people lose their mind when they have to do different things in similar apps, I dont. It's like my wife who cant drive the Ford because the wiper controls are different from the GM. I find it entertaining.
  • by giorgiofr (887762) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:30PM (#19818475)
    Not really. GIMP does everything differently than any other app I've ever used. It doesn't take long to understand that THIS is GIMP's main UI-related problem. All they need to do to fix that mess is design the UI so that it is similar to every other app out there - single window, one menu with all the commands and a few toolbar, you know the drill. Dump GTK while they're at it.
    So no, I don't think this is a case of selection bias - it's pretty clear to anyone who's used it that GIMP is simply the odd one out. I have quite a few other peeves with GIMP but those *do* stem from my own habits rather than the app's design flaws, so I won't comment on them.
  • by jeevesbond (1066726) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:36PM (#19818541) Homepage

    As it stands, I think we're seeing a lot of selection bias.

    Agreed, to an extent. There are several things very wrong with the GIMP, such as layer sizes, the multiple windows, the vast amount of screen real-estate (unless you put everything into one panel like I have), the number of tools that should be merged into one, the brush sizes, needing to go through 10 dialogues just to save a png (or some format other than xcf), the transformation tools mess the image up if used more than once, the obfuscated way to add the alpha channel.

    Those are just things that come to mind after just a cursory glance around the GIMP, am sure there are many more. Most of these are not problems if you know how to deal with them, but for a new user (or someone coming from Photoshop) they're annoying and counter-intuitive. That's not to say Photoshop isn't counter-intuitive in many ways, but using Photoshop as an excuse is a little like saying you didn't do your homework at school because your friend didn't: it's not going to wash with the teacher and, in the world of software, it isn't going to grow your market share (granted this is secondary, but what's the point of creating FLOSS software if no-one uses it?)

  • disagree with #1 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ToyKeeper (17042) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @05:58PM (#19818827) Homepage Journal
    I mostly agree, but I find item #1 to be misguided: " put the entire layout in a single window with integrated panel layout"

    If you want better window management, use a better window manager. Putting the window management features into GIMP would actually cripple the program for many of us. Photoshop's MDI is a great way to work around the limitations of the window manager in MS Windows. But it's still a kludge. A better window manager is a far better solution, and there are plenty of good solutions already available.

    More details are in another comment:
    http://developers.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=248 153&pid=19817169#19818683 [slashdot.org]
  • by edxwelch (600979) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @06:10PM (#19818985)
    Lack of user feedback is not the problem with the gimp. Users have being telling the Gimp programmers for years what's wrong with their UI.
    The problem is that gimp programmers ignore all critism of their UI and likewise they will ignore this ridiculously complicated solution to gather user feedback.
  • by NMerriam (15122) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:23PM (#19819711) Homepage

    As it stands, I think we're seeing a lot of selection bias.


    Well, selection bias against anyone who has ever used other computer programs, not just image editors. I don't know of many computer users who are accustomed to having a program with 12 different windows that doesn't even have a single document open.

    If they want to create a new, more intuitive UI from scratch, then do it. Don't steal icons, toolbars, and palettes from Photoshop and then cry that it is unfair when people are baffled that it doesn't behave even remotely like Photoshop. There have been lots of successful image editors in the past 20 years that used different metaphors and tools and layouts and methods than Photoshop does. People don't universally complain about the horrible UI of Paint Shop Pro or iPhoto or MS Photo Editor or Lightroom or Aperture (or Photostyler or Live Picture or...).

    People complain about the GIMP UI because it is a horrific example of what happens when programmers design interfaces, not because they're trained monkeys who can't operate anything but Photoshop.
  • by evanbd (210358) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @07:58PM (#19820039)
    So? Are you arguing in favor of Not Invented Here? I have no idea whether there are other widget toolkits out there that are enough better than GTK to warrant switching, but if there are, the fact that GIMP created GTK in the past when those toolkits weren't around is not an argument in favor of keeping it.
  • by Skye16 (685048) on Tuesday July 10, 2007 @08:05PM (#19820081)
    But when you're NOT using a multimonitor display, it's a fucking nightmare trying to arrange things in a useable, friendly manner.

    My main "this is fucking stupid" remark is the irritation at having menus for each of the little sub windows. I can handle saying "File->New" on the tool palette, if I absolutely must, but everything fucking else is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Gimp is the ONLY application that EVER does things this way; the only reason I want "Gimp to be like Photoshop" is because at least Photoshop follows the same fucking UI paradigm as the rest of the god damned operating system (or desktop environment). From my novice->intermediate usage of Linux over the years (i.e. I feel comfortable I can install and get Linux to do whatever I want, but it still takes a while sometimes), I haven't found a single fucking program that does similar things to Gimp. I'm not saying they don't exist - I'd be astonished if they didn't, but I am saying the fact that MOST don't work that way is an utterly confusing lack of consistency. If Gimp is so tightly coupled with GTK, and one would assume, Gnome is pretty tightly related to GTK, then you would THINK that consistency across Gnome applications (at least those that come bundled with the vanilla Gnome release) would be pretty in tune with each other. I've not yet seen that to be the case.

    That is what irritates me. Gimp will always be an easter egg hunt for me; I only use it at work since I don't have a ripped off version of Photoshop there. I would be okay with that if the UI were at least similar to other UIs on the Gnome DE. But they're not. Not even close.

    This is exacerbated even more when you consider the fact that I primarily use GIMP on Windows. I realize the GIMP is targeted primarily for Linux distributions, but to expect people to be happy with a UI paradigm that is utterly foreign to their OS of choice (whether Windows or OSX) is at best silly and ignorant.

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