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Top 8 Reasons HCI is in its Stone Age 547

UltimaGuy writes "This Editorial describes 8 reasons why HCI (Human Computer Interaction) is in its stone age. It laments about screen corners, filesystem, GUI Design and also 'spatialness'. "
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Top 8 Reasons HCI is in its Stone Age

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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <yayagu@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:40PM (#13491275) Journal

    Some pretty good long-standing beefs listed on that blog -- beefs I've never seen addressed. (Kind of like a recent article I saw talking about cell-phones, and that consumers would much prefer seeing the cell-phone issues and problems addressed before the crap like cameras, mp3 players, video recorders, etc. get incorporated into the "phones".)

    Off the top of my head I can add three that drive me crazy:

    1. In Windows I always define my task bar to autohide. Typically I have it to the side of the screen, wide enough so when I mouse over it pops out wide enough for meaningful text to show what tasks really are. But it drives me freaking crazy when events trigger auto-popout of the task bar, often right under my keyboard, or mouse and I end up typing something, hitting enter and triggering something I didn't want, or just plain obscuring something I'm trying to see. (It's so annoying when the network gets flaky and apps that disconnect and re-connect (gaim, "hello (Picasa)", et. al.) proudly interrupt what you're doing to announce they've reconnected for you. Fuck you. I get it! (I had lunch with a best buddy and complained about that task bar behavior, and asked how to disable it -- figured he'd be the one to ask. He rubbed his chin for a second and said, "Hmmm, that's a good idea, I don't have a clue how to disable that!)
    2. Meaningless jargon in messages. (this was addressed in the blog.) I got a worried e-mail from my Mom -- she was trying to start "gaim", and it kept giving her a dialog message, "An instance of gaim is already running". What the fuck? Why do we give computerese like "instance" to lay people? I can think of a few more meaningful messages than that off the top of my head that would let her proceed with confidence.
    3. Cutesy tooltips. It's no end annoying when I have new apps installed, and the "START" menu in XP puts up the "new programs installed" tooltip, obscuring the "logoff" or "turn off computer" button I'm really trying to get to.

    Yes, we're a LONG way off from interfaces that are easy to use and that make sense to the average user.

    • From the article: Every single little tiny-weeny little interaction-shraction requires your visual attention."

      We are a long way from HCI obviously, as the article does not seem to consider blind computer users as Human. If we focus on the hard problems (one of which is improving the interaction with disabled users) the easy ones will simply fall into place.
      • If we focus on the hard problems (one of which is improving the interaction with disabled users) the easy ones will simply fall into place.

        Bull. Disabled users aren't the same as normal users and designing for them isn't the same. I'm willing to bet blind users would prefer a text only computer, with the information organized in table form so it's easy to follow the hierarchy of information. The CLI, I'd think, would be ideal for blind users.

        The real problem right now is that people who are technop
    • MOD UP. Does anyone know how to prevent the Taskbar from poping up when it's on Auto-Hide? It drives me insane. Especially in MSN IM, every time someone messages you, the taskbar pops up, blocking what you're doing! I've literally ended conversations with people simply because this is so annoying.

      (I've seen some suggested registry hacks, but I haven't seen them work properly in XP)

    • I really fucking hate how every program you install nowadays has some kind of agent running in the background on startup. What's worse is that a lot of new programs make it impossible to disable them.

      You know what? I'll decide when I want a certain program running on my computer, thank you very much!

    • by pg133 ( 307365 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:05PM (#13491491)

        Google is your friend []

      Removing Balloon PopUps in Windows XP []
    • by pla ( 258480 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:11PM (#13491552) Journal
      Meaningless jargon in messages.

      Although a lot of programs may lay it on a tad thick, computer users NEED to learn a bit of jargon if they hope to have any shot of dealing with modern technology.

      You can't use a car without understanding what the brake and accellerator (and sometimes a clutch) do. When you take it in for repairs, even if you don't know how to fix it yourself, you want to know if you need a spark plug or a timing belt (not just "it broke, please pay $xxxx for the next 20,000 miles...").

      The same goes with computers. Your example, of an "instance", I consider not that bad... How do you phrase that better? "GAIM is already running"? Since such errors usually happen when you have a ghost process, I suspect most users would find that even more frustrating (I know how my grandfather would react - "God damn it, if I already had it running I wouldn't have tried to start it, you worthless pile of (stream of obscenties ommitted)").

      Cutesy tooltips.

      I agree 100%... You can actually turn those off, at least the ones that come from Windows itself, but XP has a rather obnoxious bug wherein you will eventually get them back, and can't turn them off again (because you already have them off).

      Oh, and your peeve about the task bar - Drives me absolutely batty. To re-quote the grandfather, "God damn it, if I wanted to switch to that window, I'd click on it, you worthless pile of (stream of obscenties ommitted)!". :)
      • I agree. It drives me nuts when people use the car analogy for a 'good interface' and a keyboard as a bad one. I clearly remember learning to drive and thinking 'there's way too much to focus on, I'll never be able to do this for fun' and yet, after practice, studying, and more practice I learned how to do it and enjoy it.

        No one is able to just sit down in a car and drive down the turnpike, you need to spend some time upfront with it. People need to realize that with computers as well.

        So I appreciate
      • by drgonzo59 ( 747139 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:33PM (#13491793)
        I agree, the computer and the OS is so complicated one does need to learn a little bit of computer-talk to use it.

        I also agree with the blog, too many preferences and too many flashing notification everywhere are very distracting. GNOME I think is on the right track with this, especially in the Ubuntu distro version. Applications are simple and streamlined.

        Today most computer users are all tainted by MS Windowz interface, that is what they know and they won't learn anything different even if it means improved usability and efficiency in the future. Therefore there are two philosophies for designing new interfaces:

        1) Design what is familiar to the users even if it considered "bad design" according to standards and HCI research
        2) Design what is believed to be correct according to HCI research, even at the expense of confusing the Windowz crowd.

        It seems that KDE has mostly addopted the first approach and GNOME the second.

        An interesting point, in one of the HCI classes I took, we read a paper that compared the command line to the graphical point-n-click interface. It turns out users are slower to learn the commands but once they do they remember them longer. For example it might take a while for my grandpa to learn that 'ls' means 'list the files in the directory' as opposed to just double-clicking the folder. But once he will learn it he will know it for a longer time, as opposed to asking him to open a folder in windowz a week later -- he might try to click on it once, click with a wrong button or try a mouse gesture.

      • by cbiffle ( 211614 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:43PM (#13491903)
        The same goes with computers. Your example, of an "instance", I consider not that bad... How do you phrase that better? "GAIM is already running"?


        Instead, you pop up the existing GAIM instance.

        If the user clicked on the GAIM icon, s/he wanted GAIM. Give them GAIM. The problem in the dialog is a red herring; the problem is in the implementation.
        • Instead, you pop up the existing GAIM instance.

          No. Seriously.

          I like to run multiple instances of applications. If I tell my OS I want another copy of something open, I don't want it to switch to the one that's already running.

          It would be even worse to make some applications behave the current way, and others switch to the instance that's already running. This is what a lot of MS apps do now, and it's really annoying.
    • I disagree with almost everything in TFA (for reasons outlined elsewhere) except the point that Open/Save dialogs and Finder/Explorer should be unified (although the writer does not put it this way).

      My version: abolish open/save dialogs and just use Finder/Explorer. If you're currently limited to files of certain types, figure out a way to deal with that inside Finder/Explorer (since this is a common enough requirement even if you're not in an application -- I am only interested in image files, stop showing
    • My pet peeve is programs that open dialogue boxes or windows at the very TOP of the screen.

      For a large percentage of people, that's fine. But for me, I have my task bar at the top. (used macs years ago, switched and that's where I put it. Your program menu bar is up there, why shouldn't the task bar be?)

      Anyways since some programs open up windows at the TOP they get covered by the task bar, and I cannot see the top so that I can move, close or mimize them. I am forced to change the size of the task bar to n

    • The original article is yet another whinge without any realistic solutions. There's a great series of demonstrations by 37 Signals where they put their balls on the line by showing how they would make real improvements to an existing scenario. e.g.: []

      They took the Fedex shipping manager screen/process, and redesigned it to make more sense and increase usability.

      Be sure to note their lack of weak jokes about aliens or Russians being able to design better GUIs, or the absenc
  • by Knome_fan ( 898727 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:41PM (#13491280)
  • by Kosmatos ( 179297 ) * on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:42PM (#13491292)
    "After more than 20 years of research, development and competition in the field of HCI, not one single leading operating system developing company has come up with an OS that utilizes the four corners of the screen."
      "Browse the internet by hitting the screen corner? Check mail in the screen corner? Get Info in the screen corner? System preferences in the screen corner? Switching applications in the screen corner?"
    The first and most obvious problem with this concept is that the user must know what each corner does. You should not expect the user to remember this by heart. Therefore, you have to either allocate screen real-estate to show it (doh!), or pop up the information about what happens when you move or click here (doh!). If you allocate screen real-estate, then that should be clickable as well. Doesn't sound like such a great idea anymore, does it? If you pop up information, then you just made your interface more annoying because the mouse sometimes tends to end up in the corners by mistake.
      "Ray Charles figured that out. Stevie Wonder figured that out. And they would probably make a better design team than any money-driven market thugs."
    Gee, which market thug are you thinking of? :)
    I wish Microsoft would fix their most fundamental user interface problem: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever steal my input directed to one window and start providing it to another. I don't care if the applications are not playing ball properly. Don't allow it. How many times have I hit "enter" while typing, say, in a word processor, but just before I hit "enter" a message box pops up and my enter key is swallowed by it, taking the default action, and I don't even know what happened because I never got the chance to see the question. Or my password being entered into one window's field but ending up in another. Bad.
    • Yea, I don't see why I should want an OS that performs arbitrary actions just because I moved a cursor to a screen corner. That would drive me mad. Also, how would it work for people who have their cursor wrap around the screen?
      • Having attempted something similar, i can tell you that it works poorly. :| Using OSX's hot corners and Desktop Manager (cursor wait on screen edges pulls you to a new desktop space) renders hot corners basically useless, unless you want to really screw with the delay until activation for one or the other. And then i'm the impatient sort, so i've just been making due with Expose since my attempt.
    • that was one of my biggest problems going from Mac to PC years ago. AOL Instant Messenger. On my Mac (OS 9 days) AIM would just flash the Apple symbl with it's icon and i could attend to the window at my leisure. When i went to Windows, the message window would pop up in front of my browser or whatever and continue to pop up every time my buddy would say something. Add 5 or 6 talkative people online at once, and i couldn't do ANYTHING for more than a few seconds without interruption. Thank god they changed
    • Good point about the corners.

      I think people who do HCI with a stopwatch are missing an important point, that A. initial friendliness to newbies, ideally to let them ramp up and B. "mental load" for experienced users, how much they have to keep in their head, are both as or more important than an extra millisecond.

      One random addition to this discussion:

      "If people were going to use computers all day, everyday, the design of such machines was not solely a technical problem-- it was also an aesthetic one. *A lo
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:45PM (#13491325)
    for a second there I was wondering how an acid could have an age. ;)
  • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:46PM (#13491330) Homepage
    1. Find a computer geek

    2. Yell and beat the computer geek into submission to do your computer work.

    3. The geek does the interfacing with the PC and not you.

    • No, no, it's:
      1. Find a computer geek
      2. Yell and beat the computer geek into submission to do your computer work.
      3. The geek does the interfacing with the PC and not you.
      4. Outsource the geek's job!
      5. ...profit!!!
  • by shawnce ( 146129 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:46PM (#13491342) Homepage
    Just to clarify what is built into Mac OS X by default...

    In Mac OS X, built into Mac OS X 10.4, you can trigger any of the following from any of the four corners of the main screen.

    1) Expose - All Windows
    2) Expose - Application Windows
    3) Expose - Desktop
    4) Dashboard
    5) Start Screen Saver
    6) Disable Screen Saver

    Also on the main display (the one with the menu bar) you can slam the mouse into either of the upper two corners and click. On Mac OS X 10.4 the upper left corner brings up the "Apple" menu and the upper right corner brings up "Spotlight". The later allows typing for spotlight search without having to click to gain focus.
    • While we are at it:
      I'm currently using gnome and:

      Top left corner: main menu
      Top right corner: calender
      Bottom left corner: show desktop
      Bottom right corner: trash

      Note though, that you have to actually press a mouse button to trigger any action, which might be a good thing, as it prevents accidently triggering something you don't want to trigger.

      Seriously, I don't know what OS the self proclaimed expert, who wrote the article, is using.
    • Symphony OS, anybody? They are working on using the four corners as a basis for the Mezzo desktop environment. It is quite nice, and I am sure the linked blogger would get a kick out of it. Too bad it is still in alpha stages.
    • Ah yes, the top left and right corners: a mere 10 pixels away (yes, I measured) from two buttons you may want to use: apple menu in the top left, and clock, username, or whatever you put up there in the top right. I laugh every time I see a PowerBook user go for the Apple menu with their trackpad and VWOOP! all their windows slide around. So they go up there, then back so things were as they were, then back again slowly. Real timesaver, that.

      Oh well, the Apple menu has been mostly worthless for four years n
  • by RandomCoil ( 88441 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:47PM (#13491349)
    But I don't trust documents on "usability" that employ
    "<<" and ">>"
    in non-standard ways. Anyway, the first reply to the post was, perhaps, the most appropriate:

    This blog is awesome! If you get a chance you may want to visit this discount cat furniture site, it's pretty awesome too!
  • Great (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gowen ( 141411 )
    ... more unfounded opinion masquerading as insight and research. And about HCI again.

  • by cataclyst ( 849310 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:47PM (#13491352) Homepage
    From TFA:

    Have you ever seen a system which lets you, out-of-the-box, hit a corner in order to do anything at all even remotely related to anything having anything at all to do with a document or application?

    Hmmm... yea... yea, I have... In the lower left corner of the screen for 99% of out-of-the-box systems when they are on there's that little start button, which does have something remotely to do with apps & docs... Also: what about the menu bar at the top? Upper right-hand corner: close window..
    Honestly, I don't know WTF half the articles are on here for... other than us flaming the crap outta 'em..
    • In the lower left corner of the screen for 99% of out-of-the-box systems when they are on there's that little start button, which does have something remotely to do with apps & docs

      Try moving your mouse all the way to the corner of the screen and click. See what happens? Nothing.

      Also: what about the menu bar at the top? Upper right-hand corner: close window..

      Again, try moving your mouse to the top-right corner and click. Again, nothing.

      Also from TFA, the author addresses this issue. Maybe you shou

    • Actually, most machines run Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, or XP with the "classic" theme. In all of these cases the start menu is offset from the corner by a few pixels, making a quick movement to the corner useless. Even if you have XP with the ugly ass default theme, the bottom corner opens the Start menu, which has nothing to do with the application that currently has focus.

      Not that clicking anywhere else on the screen in Windows is guaranteed to do what you expect should a modal dialog pop up right before y
  • HCI (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:49PM (#13491368)
    It's a sign of the End Times when a front-page story on /. actually explains what an acronym stands for.
  • 1. Screen Corners (Score:3, Insightful)

    by oliverthered ( 187439 ) <> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:52PM (#13491376) Journal
    Chock of shit, well almost.

    I actually wrote an application that timed how long it took to click on a small red box with the word click me written on it (distance / time)

    After doing the math you could nicely fit a straight line to the points, I even tried splitting out the results based on the direction of movement and their was very little difference and setup a test to explicitly test the 'corner of the screen' theory.

    In the end it was no quicker to reach the corners of the screen than a small box anywhere else on the screen. That it probably why no one utilizes the corners of the screen in the way suggested.

    I wrote a few more tests and was going to put together a Java applet so that world + dog could help out.
    Things like giving your menu entries sensible names and keeping things consistant were far more important for novice and experienced users. I was also looking at things like colour coding, 'vanishing' and growing buttons and other UI elements depending on how often they were used etc...

    The main reason for the lack of good user interfaces is that no one ever seems to o solid scientific testing on them, the kind of testing that proves innovations in UI outclass current designs instead of relying on a designers hunch.
    • "solid scientific testing" depends on making the right assumptions and setting the right test. Saving a few milliseconds of movement with the mouse might be outweighed by the amount of time it takes to remember to click there.

      And of course these days, with big screens, it can be quiet a journey to get to the edge.
      • Well, I'll hopefully release the test software as soon as I get some spare time.

        My intent was to produce some stats on the very basics of user interfaces so that they could be used to evaluate more complex interfaces. The first test was designed to look at how long it took people to click on something.

        I started out fairly basic, just a box with that appeared randomly on the screen, and then moved up to having boxes that appeared in ordered patterns and at given locations on the screen (including points in t
        • by teridon ( 139550 )
          just a box with that appeared randomly [...] at given locations on the screen (including points in the corners)

          Did you also track the eye movements of the users? Did they look at the box in the corner before clicking it?

          I would posit that moving the mouse to a screen corner *without looking at it* is faster than clicking a box which appears in the corner. The users in your test may have gotten used to boxes appearing at random screen locations, and having to look where it is so they could click on it. Wh
  • I bet you my bunny the former Soviet union could have designed a better operating system GUI than any of the software vendors of today.

    We have The Leader (Steve Jobs) thank you very much.

  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:52PM (#13491381)

    The author of this article has some valid points's unfortunate that he chooses to embed those few valid points in a sticky matrix of hyperbole, hysteria, and inaccuracies.

    Just a few things:
    From TFA:
    So is it possible to design a system that's suits both beginners and professionals? (No t33n-N30, the answer isn't Pr3f3r3nc3Zz!!!!!!!! 1337-H4XX0R5!!!.)
    That's funny....I was under the impression that preferences were exactly the answer to this issue.

    Also from TFA
    We wish to rotate an image, shrink it 50%, attach it to an e-mail and send it to a deaf musician.

    A. Utilizing a modern interface: The procedure would involve several clicks, mouse drags and keystrokes, and also require expert skills in order to complete the task in less time than one minute. Moreover, in order to complete the task at all, a number of subtasks (which are actually unrelated to the task at hand) need tending to. We need for instance worry about choosing a file name and a location in the process of storing the image, and then, from the e-mail application, locating the image we just stored in order to attach it.

    B. Say Tip a quarter to the right, crop by half and e-mail to Stevie Wonder.

    By the way, did you know that one-knob faucets were originally designed for disabled persons?
    By the way, did you know that a) Stevie Wonder is blind, not deaf, and b) 'shrink' is not synonymous with 'crop'?
  • Clear as mud (Score:3, Insightful)

    by miketo ( 461816 ) <miketo AT nwlink DOT com> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:52PM (#13491382)
    I really tried to get more than halfway through the article. But after phrases like " a belly-barn shackle in the reunion of unjustified friends", I couldn't continue. He bemoans the lack of clarity in HCI, yet his writing is a stream-of-consciousness mess.

    If he can't communicate his ideas better, maybe he's not the best person to describe what's wrong with HCI. I'm not the brightest bulb on the billboard, but come on -- this guy needs an editor.
    • I'm not the brightest bulb on the billboard, but come on -- this guy needs an editor.

      In the sense that the article is essentially an overlong rant no better or worse than the usual slashdot missive, and that it's on the home page right now, it did at least get past one "editor." Let's see... Ahhh yes, that would be Taco.

      We all have our peeves and pet ideas about user interfaces. Only the rare among us write so many ponderous, wooly rhetorical fluorishes into our opinions about those that our opinions un

      • In the sense that the article is essentially an overlong rant no better or worse than the usual slashdot missive, and that it's on the home page right now, it did at least get past one "editor." Let's see... Ahhh yes, that would be Taco.
        Don't worry; Zonk will dupe it before the day's over.
    • Acting on your impulse, I decided to pare the original text down to its gist to see whether there was anything worthwhile left. Unfortunately the first clause --

      "Let me introduce you to one of the greatest mysteries of our time:"

      -- put me off somewhat. Oy oy oy. I imagine the author writing term papers in her or his Freshman courses in college. What attention getting device shall I employ this time? "Let me introduce you to one of the greatest mysteries of our time"? How about "One of the most profound

  • Pet peeves... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by It doesn't come easy ( 695416 ) * on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:55PM (#13491402) Journal
    Menus that change. Whoever thought up the idea of menus that hide unused items or change the displayed order based on frequency of use should be one of the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes. Changing menus are one of the worst productivity enhancements of the last millennium. Forget that you can turn it off. It should never have been invented in the first place (no doubt it's patented, too).

    Unsolicited offers from the system to remove unused shortcuts on my desktop. I don't need help removing my unused shortcuts. They are there for a reason and just because I haven't clicked on them in a month doesn't mean they're not useful.

    Special buttons to page forward/page back in the web browser. I don't know how many times I've accidentally erased my latest diatribe by inadvertently paging backward on Slashdot. Good grief, at least put the function behind a modifier key.

    Caps Lock. Who named this key anyway? In Windows, it's not a caps lock key, it's a caps reverse key. And who the hell needs a caps reverse key? hAS aNYONE eVER rEALLY nEEDED tHIS fUNCTIONALITY bEFORE? I wonder where some people's brains are sometimes.

    I could go on...and on, and on, and on...
    • Re:Pet peeves... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hal2814 ( 725639 )
      On some legacy data entry systems I've used before, we have needed to enter information on older records in all caps, but needed to mark some newer fields on old records with a lowercase x. That doesn't really mean caps "reverse" is a very useful key. I just thought it was interesting that there is at least one situation where a caps reverse can be useful.

      My biggest complaint about caps lock is that it's very rarely used but is layed out on most keyboards opposite the enter key. Shouldn't we be able to s
    • Re:Pet peeves... (Score:4, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:36PM (#13491833) Journal
      I don't know how many times I've accidentally erased my latest diatribe by inadvertently paging backward on Slashdot. Good grief, at least put the function behind a modifier key.

      This is not a problem with the existence of forward and backwards buttons, it's an issue with their implementation. With Safari, I can hit back, then hit forward and still have the text I entered in this text box remain here when I get back. Remember Raskin's first law:

      A computer shall not harm your work or, through inaction, allow your work to come to harm.

      • Re:Pet peeves... (Score:3, Informative)

        by Haeleth ( 414428 )
        This is not a problem with the existence of forward and backwards buttons, it's an issue with their implementation. With Safari, I can hit back, then hit forward and still have the text I entered in this text box remain here when I get back.

        Yep, same in Firefox. In fact, Internet Explorer is the only browser I know of where this is not the case. And after all these years, I have to say that anyone still using Internet Explorer, when they don't absolutely have to, frankly deserves all the pain they get fro
  • My response: thats nice, but I don't have time to care about your whining. Awww poor baby windows treating you bad? I would have respect if the author had proposed solutions, preferably with some diagrams / mockups. Anyone can whine about problems, but if you want respect you should attempt to solve them as well. It would be like if NASA kept releasing reports on how gravity is heavy and then never did anything. I also enjoyed how he took extra time out to mock microsoft and apple. Because I'm sure ma
  • The largest key (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Se7enLC ( 714730 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:56PM (#13491410) Homepage Journal
    ...what the LARGEST KEY ON THE KEYBOARD does. Well... this key? Right over here? Ah, the chubby one! It.. spaces... kind of... leaps.. a tiny bit. In the text... See...? Nothingness! Hey, I know how this must sound... Hey! Wait!! No!!

    Hey, how about maybe it's the largest key on the keyboard because it's the MOST FREQUENTLY USED? Wow, imagine that, making something that you use often larger and thus easier to find. Doesn't seem stone age to me, seems more like tried-and-true.
    • imagine that, making something that you use often larger and thus easier to find

      Funny, I seem to get a lot of emails about supplements for that kind of thing.
  • by ABaumann ( 748617 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:58PM (#13491424)
    It's a rant on a stupid blog. Slashdot refers to it as an "Editorial"

    The guy's simply a moron. At least half of his "points" are opinions. Others are just not really points at all. "4. Multiple representation of the file system. ... See point six." And what's with 8 having no title? Point 8 isn't a point. It's a use case.


    We wish to rotate an image, shrink it 50%, attach it to an e-mail and send it to a deaf musician. Say Tip a quarter to the right, crop by half and e-mail to Stevie Wonder.

    You sir, have failed. You just sent it to a blind musician, not a deaf one.
  • Editorial? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdog1016 ( 703094 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @01:59PM (#13491428)
    I'm sorry, but I don't think "editorial" is the terminology I would use here. The correct phrase is "random blog post." Who is this person? Nowhere on the page are the credentials of the author, and nowhere in the post does he/she address anything directly related to HCI. Interfaces of popular OS's and windowing systems represent a very, very small subset of HCI, and attacking these with 8 poorly researched, poorly thought out, hardly substantiated claims is a laughable way to go about showing that HCI is in its "stone age." Human Computer Interaction is a very new thing, much newer even than computer science, which is also in its infancy, and mostly everyone that knows anything about HCI knows this. I realize that sensationaliziing common knowledge with irrelevant bullshit is amusing to some people, but Slashdot is supposed to be about news.
  • by aftk2 ( 556992 )
    These points are not bad, per se, but I do have one very large problem with two of them, at least insofar as the same author has combined them into the same list:

    2. OS GUI's are Designed for Beginners.
    Ooooh. there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you can grow with your user interface. Problem is, we outgrow it in a matter of hours, and after that the OS is nothing but a nail in the eye


    5. Our love of choice
    I bet you my bunny the former Soviet union could have designed a better operat

  • This is why we always go back to that little thing we call console. If you use a console instead of a "traditional" desktop, pretty much none of the points made in the article hold true.

    Let's see...

    1. Four corners..
    I bet i can type out a simple command faster than most people can move their mouse to the corner of the screen.

    2. OS GUIs..
    Any application can include their own console for an experienced user to do things in a faster, more aggressive manner. (yeah, im talking about autocad ;)

    5. *ash... s
  • by falcon203e ( 589344 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:02PM (#13491463)
    Here's my problem with the screen corners. Because they're the easiest to get to, they're also the easiest to land on by mistake. To simply have a corner activate a process is annoying, so there must be some sort of confirmation. A click, perhaps. Well guess what, Apple already has you covered, as the top two corners, when clicked, activate the Apple menu and the Spotlight menu. If you put something in the corner, it requires some sort of input to activate, and some other sort of input to perform its task. I'm not sure what you'd want to put in the corners, but for the sake of example let's say you want your application switcher there. Are you sure about that? Would you really rather mouse to the corner, activate the switcher, mouse to the app you want to switch to, and click again? Or would you rather find your app in the Dock/Taskbar and click it?
  • by kindbud ( 90044 )
    How often do you do something like this in the shell:

    for file in `find . -name \*.[ch] -print` ; do mv $file /var/backup; done

    I have yet to see a GUI that allows me to select files in this manner, and perform the same operation on all of them. A large collection of archive files that need to be unpacked is usually quite difficult to do in a timely manner on Windows, or in any KDE or Gnome desktop. Oh, you can use the GUI filemanager in Windows or Unix to find files whose names match a pattern, but how do

    • Actually, you can do that in Windows. If you do search for files, you can select the files in the results page, and do any sort of action you would do to typical files. I use this to remove entries from lists of e-mail addresses when they change - I do a search on a given location (recursively) for a certain pattern, and when the results appear, I select the search results, and drag it onto the vim icon. I then do a little bit of editing magic in vim, and it's all done. If I was doing it on my own works
  • by saddino ( 183491 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:03PM (#13491468)
    I bet you my bunny the former Soviet union could have designed a better operating system GUI than any of the software vendors of today.

    Yes, but then the User Interface would be controlling us.
  • our keyboards and mice cannot be controlled by software. What I mean is this: if you are scrolling through a list of items, the items that are grayed out and the end of the list cannot be communicated to the user through keyboard/mouse. Wouldn't it be neat if the end of a list was communicated back through a keyboard by pushing the key up, so that the user couldn't press it down anymore? For example arrow up and arrow down keys, arrow left, arrow right, page up, page down, keyboard keys. All of these co
  • Alternatives? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gbr ( 31010 )
    A Rant without viable alternatives is a waste of space.
  • 1. Screen Corners

    In terms of using screen corners, Windows uses the lower left corner for an applications menu, the lower right corner for system/application information, and the upper right and upper left corners for application control when the app is in full-screen mode.

    As he mentions, expose is invoked by going to a screen corner as well, but apparently has disrespect for spatial navigation, so this does not counter his

    2. OS GUI's are Designed for Beginners

    Just using the term O
  • Nice Rant (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wayne606 ( 211893 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:10PM (#13491542)
    I can't wait to see *his* UI design that addresses all these concerns.
  • I always wondered about the octogonal screens in Battlestar Galactica.

    In the future, they figured out that corners are useless, so they cut them out!
  • by Godeke ( 32895 ) * on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:12PM (#13491559)
    So I read the article, and all I find is a diatribe by an apparent madman. Why are we taking user interface design from a person who tries to send "rotated and cropped" pictures to blind musicians? I thought at first it was an attempt at irony, but apparently it is just part of the stream of consciousness that produced misused angle quotes, improper grammatical constructs and just plain odd statements.

    Examine his (central) point about corners, for example. Yes, corners *can* be hit easily with the mouse. Isn't that a long way to travel to achieve ones goals? His point about scrolling with the spacebar press is on target (and a feature I appreciated), but then he goes on a tangent about the biggest key on the keyboard producing "nothingness". Considering that each and every word must be separated from each and every other word with "nothingness", I fail to see where its place of honor is diminished by the lack of pixels being illuminated by its use.

    Crying shame too: usability *is* important and should be a central consideration. Sadly, I don't think this guy is the one to much of that consideration. Maybe once he grasps the utilization of natural language a bit more, I would consider his ideas on more natural interfaces.

  • by Minna Kirai ( 624281 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:14PM (#13491582)
    The prime reason why HCI (aka "GUIs") is in such a poor shape is that each application still controls its own GUI.

    New OSes have little opportunity for HCI improvements because too many of the details are left down for the application programmers to decide upon. At best, the OS vendor provides a shared GUI library (buttons + widgets), and a guidebook [] teaching app authors the "right" way to do it.

    But, depending on each individual author to carry out the instructions is fundamentally limited and slow. Not every programmer will be aware of the guidelines, choose to obey them, or be capable of following it exactly even if he tries.

    And even if all coders were magically obedient to the published standard, it's still non-optimal. New ideas to improve the HCI guidelines cannot be uniformly implemented without waiting years for all programs to be updated. Computers are supposed to REDUCE redundant labor- instead of each app's GUI being written separately, all trying to implement the same guidelines, one piece of code should handle all that functionality in one place. Code reuse is a fundamental rule of software design that has taken far too long to penetrate the HCI world.

    What we need are applications written to a high level GUI description service, so that the OS can implement a UI consistent with other programs and exactly tailored to the limitations of this user (Colorblind? Blind? No keyboard? No mouse? No muscular control besides blinking []?)
  • Moving and resizing Windows should be unneccessary. The window manager or DE should handle this for us, learning where we like our applications and what combinations we use them in.

    I also think that the UNIX Way (tm) of doing applications (small, modular, and easily integrated) should be brought to the GUI level, so that our apps better communicate with one another, even to the point where you can hook multiple apps together into a single "app group".
  • Reason 0: The keyboard/mouse combination is lousy.

    No, seriously. We only go along with this crazy thing because we've been trained that way. We got the keyboard because there were typewriters. We got the mouse because it was better than cursor keys (mostly).

    The tablet PC shows some promise, but it is strange that the tablet part isn't offered as a peripheral to an honest computer. I mean, a nice LCD monitor that you can write on with a stylus. You could take it down to do detailed work (photoshop, etc)
  • While things are far from ideal, I don't think HCI people are nearly the poo-flinging chimpanzees this guy presumes they must be.

    For example, the spatial attention thing is a great point, but there are good reasons we use symbology in the interface, because that's how the underlying computer works! It's not that these people are idiots, it is clear that space is important, it's just that they haven't yet built enough layers of abstraction on top of the underlying computer to turn everything into space.

  • While actually having speech recognition might be problematic (dry sore throats, noisy offices), I often wondered why not combine a Inform/Zork parser with a command line interface. It might be a lot easier than traditional scripting. And a lot more fun.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:21PM (#13491658) Homepage Journal
    Design is communication. What's easier to use, an interface that communicates "This is how you do such and so," or an interface that communicates "Hey, you! I'm easy to use!"?

    Now, suppose you are marketing a product. Which message gets you the most sales?

    Software user interfaces pretty much respond to the same pressures as any other kind of interface. Most interfaces are designed to communicate messages of desirability, not anything as pedestrian as function. Most car dashboards are a mess for that reason. You can get custom color face plates for your cell phone so you have one to match every outfit in your closet, but it's still a piece of shit to use.

  • by GMFTatsujin ( 239569 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:41PM (#13491881) Homepage
    "Interfaces suck because they don't read my mind."

    That's what a college education will buy you.

  • by Jekler ( 626699 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:42PM (#13491887)
    I RTFA, and it comes off as a written by someone who isn't very well studied on the concepts of User Interfaces. To be truthful, it sounds like the author just finished reading The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems by Jef Raskin.

    The editorialist makes a few good points, but it's a bit one-sided. He presents a very simplified view of what it takes to build a powerful user interface. There are thousands of scientists with PhDs studying the field of HCI, coming up with answers all the time, but there's a huge leap between what sounds good in theory and what actually works. One persons idea of a brilliant user interface is another person's nightmare that turns their operating system into something that resembles M.C. Ecsher's work.

    Games are the breeding ground for examples of where conceptually-superior user interfaces often fail. Take a game like Black and White or Temple of Elemental Evil. Controlling a character or environment is no longer as simple as pushing some arrow keys, it's an exercise in digital dexterity. Even though conceptually it allows you to present more options in a smaller space, it's still foreign to everyone who has ever played another game.

    Everytime you try a new user interface, it requires everyone who is comfortable to give up that comfort for the sake of eventually having an easier experience. The effect can be observed when people try using a Devorak keyboard. Technically speaking, Devorak might be a superior idea, but it also represents 4 weeks worth of practice.

    The idea that we "should" find a better way to use computers has been around for a long time. Implementing those ideas in a way that the majority of users can accept is an enormous task. If the author really thinks his ideas about user interfaces is a trivial task, he should build a prototype.

    Every couple years, someone comes up with a brilliant idea for a new way to interact with computers that involves some sort of surrealistic work of art like a Pyramid Keyboard you stick your fingers in like you're piloting an alien shuttle.

    The article is hypocritical. There's no table of contents for each numbered point. For all the talk of making things difficult, why do I need to scroll repeatedly up and down the page to locate information? And why use >> << as some sort of quotation mark replacement? He talks about how intuitive using corners is but he can't use the same symbol to quote a person that almost every English document for the last 3 centuries has. Glass house meet stones.
  • Use the 4 corners!? (Score:3, Informative)

    by gg3po ( 724025 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @02:44PM (#13491920)

    From TFA:

    "After more than 20 years of research, development and competition in the field of HCI, not one single leading operating system developing company has come up with an OS that utilizes the four corners of the screen."

    This guy's obviously never used Symphony OS [].

  • People, get a grip! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @03:22PM (#13492295) Homepage Journal
    Argh! I agree that many current graphical user interfaces aren't ideal, and I'm writing my own rant about it (plus a design that makes it better, which is why it takes so long). This guy, and also amaroK's Fitt's Corners [] are just painfully wrong in places.

    From the Stone Age blog post:

    ``After more than 20 years of research, development and competition in the field of HCI, not one single leading operating system developing company has come up with an OS that utilizes the four corners of the screen.''

    That doesn't mean that HCI is in the stone age. It just means the leading OSes have it wrong. The GNOME version I am running uses all 4 corners. I don't use any of the functions from the corners on a regular basis, but that's a different story; they are used, and it's obviously because the GNOME team realized their power.

    The Fitt's Corners article writes about this:

    ``why don't any major Desktop Environments exploit the screen corners?

    I have a good reason: it's because they are the easiest spots to hit with the mouse.

    Setup your OSX box to trigger Expose when you move the mouse to a corner. Now count how many times during the day you nudge the mouse into the corner and trigger Expose by accident.''

    This has nothing to do with screen corners, and everything with mouse gestures. It's the fact that just moving the mouse (without any indication that some action is intended) triggers actions that causes these accidents. This is why I always disable mouse gestures in apps that support them.

    From the Stone Age:

    ``2. OS GUI's are Designed for Beginners.
    Ooooh. there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you can grow with your user interface.''

    Yes, GUIs are designed to make computers easy for beginners to use. For those who want flexibility, there is the command line, or, if you don't want to leave the GUI world, scripting (think DCOP, AppleScript), augmented with macro recording (think Automator).

    What's _really_ wrong with respect to GUIs being for beginners, is that many aren't actually easy for beginners to use. What idiot came up with double-click? Do you have any idea how much trouble this is causing?!

    From the Stone Age:

    ``You have to actually drop focus on what you're looking at and move your eyesight in order to find that tiny little resize button of the window.''

    What would you rather have, genius? A 1x1 inch resize widget cluttering up the screen? At least with people I know, resizing isnt a very common operation. If you want to temporary get the current window out of the way and look at another one, just throw the mouse to the dock or taskbar (yep, they're at the edge of the screen in all current GUIs) and click the widget for the window you want to look at.

    Perhaps it would be useful to be able to resize a window by holding some key and dragging a corner of it (where the "corner" could be up to 1/4 of the total window size - after all, you need to hold the magic key to activate this mode), but then, holding a key and dragging is something very advanced for many users I know.

    Or you could do like a number of advanced GUI users I know, and just partition the screen into non-overlapping frames, put your windows inside these frames, and never have the problem of overlapping windows in the first place!

    More insights from the Stone Age:

    ``Situations like these make me feel sorry for the spacebar. So big and strong... He totally rules over the other keys, and yet all he produces is... nothingness.''

    Maybe, just maybe, it's because inserting a space is a very common operation? How usable do you think a keyboard would be if the space bar were as difficult to hit as the 'Q' on a Dvorak keyboard (it's where the 'X' is on QWERTY)? For the same reason, the return key and the backspace are (hopefully) larger than regular keys, but smaller than the space bar.

    The Stone Age guy also complains about modern GUIs offer
  • by fossa ( 212602 ) <pat7@gmx.GIRAFFEnet minus herbivore> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @03:40PM (#13492521) Journal

    The commandline is broken. So many people hate it. Why? Lack of visual feedback? The need to memorize many commands and their options?

    The GUI is broken. Popup windows constantly getting in the way; windows obscuring where I'm looking. Why is "ls *.bmp | xargs convert $i $i.jpg" so difficult in a GUI?

    A complete rethinking of computer interfaces is needed. I think a lot of HCI research is of little use because it's starting from such flawed premises. You can only keep patching holes for so long. Projects like the late Jef Raskin's Archy are interesting and what I consider cutting edge HCI.

    Of course, we're so entrenched at this point that any out of the box HCI research is also of little use... For shame.

  • by MORB ( 793798 ) on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @04:33PM (#13493090)
    I hate people who have the pretense to know what's better for everyone out there.

    People should stop assuming that real life metaphors are a better solution for everyone.

    His arguments in favor of the spatial model are fine as long as you assume that everyone is more used to manipulate real life objects in closets, drawers and boxes than they are to manipulate stuff on a computer.

    Because of my job (and centers of interest), I spend most of my time manipulating stuff on a computer. As such, I'd rather have my closet present its contents in a list tree than have my computer files presented as a real life metaphor.

    Of course, I don't pretend to know what's best for everyone. That's why suggesting that preferences are unnecessary is idiotic.

    The only solution that would be acceptable as far as I'm concerned would be "reasonable defaults" that people more familiar with physical objects than stuff on a computer would be able to deal with more easily, preferences out of the way by default, but existing, and let people switch back to the current way of working if they want to do so.

    Also, his article is very critical of the way things are done currently, but don't provide much practical solutions, except get rid of preferences, put stuff in the corner, and a couple random specific use cases, so it's essentially pointless.
  • by 0-9a-f ( 445046 ) <> on Tuesday September 06, 2005 @07:38PM (#13494858) Homepage
    1. Spotting flaws in any technology - easy.
      Example: QWERTY keyboards sux0rs!
    2. Recommending a solution is - good.
      Example: Dvorak keyboard r0x0rs!
    3. To fix the problem before everyone gets used to the broken implementation - divine.
      Example: I've never met anyone who uses a Dvorak keyboard.
    Just like this guy's rant against Windows, it seems everyone now knew that New Orleans was doomed. Problem was, everyone got used to it the way it was, and felt the money could be better used elsewhere.

    Wake me when there's some real news.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. -- Christopher Morley