Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
GUI Software Technology

An Optimized GUI Based On Users' Abilities 114

Ostracus writes "Researchers at the University of Washington have recently developed a system, which, for the first time, offers an instantly customizable approach to user interfaces. Each participant in the program is placed through a brief skills test, and then a mathematically-based version of the user interface optimized for his or her vision and motor abilities is generated. The current off-the-shelf designs are especially discouraging for the disabled, the elderly and others who have trouble controlling a mouse, because most computer programs have standardized button sizes, fonts, and layouts, which are designed for typical users."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

An Optimized GUI Based On Users' Abilities

Comments Filter:
  • Let me help (Score:5, Funny)

    by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @06:16AM (#25923669)
    "Ok,, just press any key..."
    "...sorry, I can't find the 'any' key..."
    • by impaledsunset ( 1337701 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @06:22AM (#25923705)
      As a user, I'm politely asking to stop making fun of me. It was only once that you, software designers, made us stupid with this any key thing. Do I have to remind you of your muffs, you know, things like "Keyboard not found, press F1 to continue?" I'm sure we scored more than you at this game!
      • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @07:54AM (#25924047)

        That is because the F1 will not make you continue.

        The interface clearly states: Would you like to delete the seleted file(s)?
        The answwer below it should read:
        All, No or Yes? Press A, N, Y key to continue.

        And if you do not believe that, I will make something else up.

      • Re:Let me help (Score:4, Informative)

        by 0xygen ( 595606 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @09:21AM (#25924331)

        Funnily enough, I had this yesterday, only to discover THE MESSAGE IS RIGHT!

        I plugged in the USB keyboard, the backlight came on, I pressed F1, and the machine booted.

        Motherboard is an Abit IP 35 Pro with BIOS USB Keyboard support enabled for disbelievers who want to try it...

      • Re:Let me help (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Fumus ( 1258966 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:16AM (#25924557)
        That's because if you don't have a keyboard, your PC is kind of useless. (not counting headless systems operated by SSL)

        This error message is there to show that you can continue as soon as you plug a (USB) keyboard in. That's why it wants you to press a key, so it know that you now have a keyboard.

        It really should be rewriten as "Keyboard not found. Plug one in and press F1 to continue.".
        • This error message is there to show that you can continue as soon as you plug a (USB) keyboard in.

          That error message is far older than USB, and I've heard that older keyboards weren't supposed to be hotplugged (even though it never caused any problems for me).

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by JaBob ( 1194069 )

            PS/2 keyboards could be hot plugged once the BIOS handed over control of the computer to the OS. But if you set the computer to ignore the missing keyboard and just continue booting, then you were out of luck until you power cycled the computer with a keyboard plugged in. I don't remember if DIN keyboards had the same functionality, so someone else could chime in on that one.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by skolima ( 1159779 )

          That's because if you don't have a keyboard, your PC is kind of useless. (not counting headless systems operated by SSL)

          I may be strange, but I prefer SSH...

        • by Cyberax ( 705495 )

          That message is about 20 years older than the USB standard.

          I've seen it on 80286-based computer _without_ hot-pluggable keyboard (well, you could try to hot-plug PS/2 keyboard, but it had the real potential to burn your motherboard).

        • by ZygnuX ( 1365897 )
          Yeah, very useless. I distinctly remember trying to set up a Pentium IV server with an Asus mobo. Installed Debian, got SSH configured, everything ready to go. I turned it off, disconnected the monitor and keyboard, and plugged the server into the servers room. Started it up.. but i couldnt access it through SSH. What was it? "Keyboard not found, press F1 to continue" Funnily enough, there was no option in the BIOS to skip "All errors". So the server is still there, with a keyboard plugged in and hid
    • by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @06:29AM (#25923731)
      Guy goes into a Home Depot and asks what they have that he can use to cut wood. Clerk shows him a shiny new chainsaw kit - the guy buys it and takes it home after being assured that he can bring it back if he isn't happy with it.

      Two weeks later the guy brings the chainsaw back to HD, saying he'd like to return it.

      "I'm sorry you had trouble Sir, what seems to be the issue?"
      "I worked from dawn to dusk for the last two weeks, but all I got done was half a lousy cord of wood - I'd like something that might make the job go a bit faster..."
      "I see - let me check it out for you..." says the clerk as he proceeds to fire up the chainsaw...gunning the engine and spinning the sharp-toothed chain, to which the surprised customer replies rather loudly...
      "What's that sound???"
      • >Each participant in the program is placed through a brief skills test,

        Knock on door...
        "Who is it???"
        "It's me, man, Dave - let me in!"
        "Sorry, man............Daves' not here!"
        • Stooges Keep Gaming tech support help line #401...2 am GMT...

          "Ok, Mr. Woebeegone, thank you for calling SKG, but before we get to your problem with the new game, can you first tell me the color of the small yellow square in the lower left corner of your screen, please...?"
          • ... can you first tell me the color of the small yellow square ...

            Interesting! I've never thought of this.

            Green rectangle with "Start" - Windows XP.
            Blue(?) circle - Windows Vista.
            Grey rectangle with "Start" - Windows 2000 or XP Classic.
            Grey rectangle with no words - GNOME.
            None/Black border - Sugar.
            None/Multicoloured long rectangle - Macintosh.

            Anyone knows KDE or others? XP and Vista Themes?

      • It just goes to show you that you get what you pay for when you buy something like a chain saw at a discount outlet.

        I bought a chain saw because the guy I contracted to paint some buildings on the property told me I had to clear all of the brush, or it would cost me a lot of money if he did it. He told me what brand and model of saw to get, and he told me to buy three extra chains on account of the kind of work I was taking on: "the second you touch stone working close to the building, you have dulled th

        • by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @03:20PM (#25926899) Homepage Journal

          As to blaming customers for being stupid about user interfaces on everything from chain saws to computers, there is something to be said about proper training and for purchasing from sales outlets that provide that training.

          Of course, with computers, a big part of the problem is that most of the settings, options, whatever, aren't documented anywhere that the user is likely to discover. And when something is documented, it's usually in the developers' obscure jargon that doesn't share any keywords with the description a typical user would give.

          I recently stumbled across a useful example: I'd been frustrated for years that, good as firefox is, it didn't seem to have a way to do something obvious that was in all the other browsers (of the 12 on my Mac, for example) had right there in the obvious menu: I couldn't get it to open a group of bookmarks in tabs in a new window. I made all sorts of guesses, googled for it, and asked on various forums. A few people said that it was possible, but gave no clues as to how. Then suddenly, a few months ago, I mentioned it in a comment here in /., and someone answered with the key combo. It's shift-click on the menu item, in the OSX edition. Now, I used shift-click in a number of other situations, but I guess I hadn't accidentally tried it on a bookmarks group-level item. Of all the zillions of possible multi-key possibilities in the zillions of widgets I see on the screen, there was no particular reason to guess that it would do that in this widget. There's no metaphorical interpretation of the various shift-clicks that I know; they all seem to do something totally idiosyncratic when they do anything at all.

          I just repeated a search through FF's Preferences stuff, and I can definitely say there's no clue there. Or if there is, it's couched it terms that make no sense to me. The "Tabs" window has only six items, and clearly none of them applies to this task. If it's hidden somewhere else, I can't spot it.

          This isn't particularly a criticism of FF, of course. It's just a single recent instance of a universal problem with computer UIs: The user usually has no way of discovering most of the capabilities, other than in discussions like this, on line or via email or in person or however. Or by randomly hitting keys and trying to make sense of the responses.

          This is especially frustrating, because you know that most apps have one or a small number of tables that handle the mapping of input to functions. It should be easy to present this table to the user, and let them edit it. I've seen this done in a few apps. I've written such config windows myself for several apps. But even in the few cases where this is done, it's usually nowhere near complete, so users remain ignorant of most of the hidden capabilities.

          What's even more frustrating is that, as a developer, I've worked on several jobs where I was explicitly ordered not to write such an unneeded tool. "Customers aren't asking for it; don't waste your (billable) time on it." In other cases, it was written and widely used by developers during testing, but was removed as unneeded "debug" code in the deliverable.

          So now, instead of such "unneeded" tools, we're reading about a much more complex config approach that doesn't educate the user, but instead enables a minimal subset that limits the user to what they understood during the initial installation. Somehow I'm not sure this is an improvement. I think I'd prefer something that tells me what is implemented, and maybe lets me configure it a bit to match any physical (or mental ;-) limitations I may have.

          • by dargaud ( 518470 )

            Of course, with computers, a big part of the problem is that most of the settings, options, whatever, aren't documented anywhere that the user is likely to discover.

            That's why, when I start a new program, the very first thing I do is [Menu][Options] and then look at all the options. It's the best way to grok the capabilities of a program. And incidentally also the reason why I hate Macs: their programs often don't have any options.

            • It's the first thing I teach secretaries when I train them. They're notoriously afraid of software, and I tell them this is the easiest way to get to know software. Even if they don't understand what the options do, what the words mean, or if they care to do something other than what they're used to doing, exposure to the vocabulary is important. It eventually sinks in, like any language. But why options are all grouped together and not accessible on the surface GUI level attached to the appropriate sec
    • by TheMCP ( 121589 )

      Yeah yeah. You think it's a good joke... and it is... until the day a user calls you and says that. And I not only have had it happen to me, I know several other people who had it happen to them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 29, 2008 @06:22AM (#25923695)

    would be a system that automatically and continuously monitors mouse movements and typing and continuously adjusts the user interface for the user's current skill level.

    That way as you drink more beer the fonts get bigger and the mouse remains useable. Bonus points if eyeball movement can be detected and the screen be moved in time with the wobble.

  • Tech support (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ma8thew ( 861741 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @06:22AM (#25923697)
    This will make tech support a lot more fun.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'm not sure that the idea will work at all. You spent half an hour for the program to learn about your abilities. During this time, it might have correctly guessed some of the settings which will be correct for you, but still it will be far from perfect and you might need to tweak it anyway. And I'm talking about the case when you have serious disabilities, if you don't, the task of this program will be hard.

      Tweaking the settings on your own will take you less time, and even if they are not perfect, your f

      • Not so if you spent twenty minutes doing bullshit and end up with a GUI settings that you find horrible at first.

        This system does actually ask you which GUI settings you do prefer. For the user it works as a extended configuration wizard, but it doesn't only register your preferences but also your real performance within the system.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I use an xterm, you insensitive clod!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Saysys ( 976276 )
      It should have no functional impact on tech support. It's not like someone with CP needs the start control panel to be only accessible through a right-click on the desk top.

      "By contrast, a woman with muscular dystrophy who participated in the study used both hands to move a mouse. She could make very precise movements but moved the cursor very slowly and with great effort because of weak muscles. Based on her results, Supple automatically generated an interface with small buttons and a compressed layout."
  • by dleigh ( 994882 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @07:05AM (#25923871) Homepage
    I have athralgia which prevents me from using a mouse. I rely heavily on keyboard shortcuts but use a trackball as a pointing device. I often find GUI buttons are too small and easily overshot - and the worst offenders often have dialogs without any support for keyboard shortcuts. InfraActive comes to mind - they even removed keyboard shortcuts between versions 7 and 8. Button scaling in many apps breaks the layout, or doesn't even work. While this is a interesting and useful development, I don't see anything changing soon on the disability usability front. There is existing support in common OSs for making global UI changes, but most apps ignore/override these settings or just break horribly because the UI developer didn't design the interface to adapt to these sort of changes.
    • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @07:10AM (#25923893) Homepage Journal

      I have athralgia which prevents me from using a mouse.

      I had to google that. Have you tried using a mouse with the left hand rather than the right? I changed over when I had a lot of pain in my right hand. I know that your problem may not be RSI related its just that I find the left handed configuration to be more balanced, which reduces the stress on the right hand.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by WillKemp ( 1338605 )

        Have you tried using a mouse with the left hand rather than the right?

        I'm mainly right handed, but when i started using a mouse in the early 90s i deliberately started using it with my left hand. I figured that if i used it with my left hand it would be easy to swap over to my right hand if i needed to, but if i started using my right hand it would be hard to swap to the left and i'd never do it. I hoped to avoid RSI type problems that way - and i pretty much have.

        • by Ant P. ( 974313 )

          I'm left handed but always used right-handed mice. Lately I've realised how bad this layout actually is; the left hand doesn't move from the left of the keyboard, while the right hand is constantly reaching between the keyboard and mouse, over the arrow keys and (relatively useless) numpad. That's a lot of needless full-arm movement and it does start to hurt after a while.
          I'm not sure whether the best solution is to get a new keyboard without the numpad, or get a mouse I can use left-handed (current one is

          • It's better to relearn it now, while you've got the option of switching back to the right hand when you need to - rather than wait till your right hand's so bad you can't use is any more. I use a normal two button plus scroll wheel right handed mouse, configured normally (i.e., not with buttons switched).

            One very important consideration when it comes to avoiding RSI etc is never use those small sized mouses. Like all too-small tools, they'll ruin your hands faster than anything.

            As far as numeric keypads go,

            • by xelah ( 176252 )
              The numeric keypad certain is's why I use a mouse with my left hand despite being right handed. However, I turn mouse-keys on and use a mix of the mouse buttons and keypad for clicking. For dragging, especially, that's more comfortable than holding down the button and moving the mouse simultaneously. I just wish the designer of mouse-keys hadn't decided it was a good idea to make /, * and - change button and 5 do the actual click. It turns most click operations in to two keys - one to make sur
      • by dleigh ( 994882 )
        I've been using my left hand for the pointing device ever since I got this problem, and I recommend that layout to everyone. This was the first thing the Health and Safety guy at work suggested and it makes a major difference to comfort. Unfortunately it makes pointer aiming worse; even after 6 months I'm not as a accurate with my left hand as my right.
        Even on the left side, I can't use a mouse properly - I can't form my hands into the normal shape to hold a mouse, with wrist pointing down, middle fingers
    • Changing the size of text is the biggest cause that I've seen for showing problems in software UI design. Dialogue boxes are often fixed in size, they won't "grow" based on the contents of the window, so text just gets cropped. Other items, such as scroller width, window border width, don't seem to cause problems.

      Apple's resolution independence initiative appears to be a good step, but right now, their tools to adjust the window control buttons (close, minimize & zoom) and the scroll bars are almost n

      • If you put too much stuff on a dialog box, it's no longer as effective. There's clear research in this. If you have lots of informative text or selectable options, you're either not using the right kind of UI element, or you're not narrowing choices sufficiently.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by xelah ( 176252 )
          It isn't about the number of user interface objects on display - it's about the number of pixels used to display them. Ultimately, EVERYTHING should be resolution independent - none of this 'make the resolution and image quality lower just so I can make objects bigger' nonsense. Widgets, windows, spacing and icons should all be sized based on dialogue units, or some equivalent, not pixels. That way if I want everything at double size so I can read it without my contact lenses then that's what I can have.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      many mouse drivers have a snap to buttons effect you can turn on. whenever you roll near a button it has a bit of gravity to help prevent overshoot.

    • I am color blind (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Extremus ( 1043274 )
      I am color blind. And I can tell you that I HATE web designer! Why do they need to use, for example, light green for the links on white background?!

      Ok Ok. Some designer think of it. But only in major websites...
      • If using firefox, you can change this behaviour most of the time by selecting Edit - Preferences - Content - Colours and unselecting the 'Allow pages to use their own colours' checkbox. The page colours should stay relatively sane after this.

      • There are benefits to being colorblind. For example, you have never had to suffer red font on a gray background.

  • GUI hygiene (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tsjaikdus ( 940791 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @07:13AM (#25923901)

    I sure wish people would stop inventing their own user interfaces. Instead just follow the conventions of your operating system. The sluggish and unfriendly custom interfaces I encounter in my day to day work makes me age two times as fast and makes me do my job four times as slow. We don't need a reinvented GUI, we need programmers that enforce just that little bit of GUI hygiene in the first place.

    • What if the existing GUI conventions are broken? Sometimes an original user interface is more natural and more efficient for a particular program than what the standard OS GUI interface offers. The standard WIMP interface and desktop metaphor was designed primarily for office work, after all.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ben0207 ( 845105 )

      Try a Mac. I'm not saying 100% of apps use the normal interface bits, but certainly most.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OhMickey ( 1053630 )
      tsjaikdus, this isn't about you. it's about your grand pa, your disabled cousin and my sister w/ other disabilities.. who says one GUI must serve them all? Your GUItopia will never exist until the world is peopled by nothing but perfect trek-drones. Since that is unlikely to happen, we can embrace the tools that make our lives and the lives of our friends and family easier. V/R --Micke
      • > until the world is peopled by nothing but perfect trek-drones. Since that
        > is unlikely to happen,

        Shhhhh, Vermont can hear you!

    • some people are trying to make the gui intuitive and responsive :)

      there is nothing wrong in examining the possibilities.

      Sometimes a gui simply doesn't suit a device - if I take a standard mouse UI and put it onto a touch device it doesn't work too well.

      i prefer simple fast and intuitive :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "We don't need a reinvented GUI, we need programmers that enforce just that little bit of GUI hygiene in the first place."

      I don't believe this is the case at all, I am quite frustrated by modern GUI's and the rather enormous amount of complexity that has come about for information and data-types in general, try pasting text directly into youtube video, etc, adding/changing and editing things right now is a real PITA (pain in the ass) because many GUI's for editing absolutely suck, but hte problem goes deepe

      • "I've often thought of writing a GUI totally based on proper hybrid of vector based shapes and typography, as well as the implementation of layers (ala photoshop) and nodes ala the brain for connecting data in different ways which would need to be prototyped and tested."

        Flash with Action script can be used to do GUI prototyping.

      • some of your ideas sound a lot like OpenDoc []. The problem with OpenDoc was that it was dog slow on the hardware at the time. That and nobody wanted to support it.

    • by xelah ( 176252 )
      Developers need to take time to read the Windows Vista user experience guidelines, or the equivalent for their own platform (or just read the Windows ones, whichever platform you're on, they're pretty good: [] ). They're imposing documents (760 pages for the Microsoft one), but you really shouldn't be writing UIs without reading it.
      • Developers need to take time to read the Windows Vista user experience guidelines
        You are joking, right? "User experience guidelines" from a company that hasn't figured out that EVERY app should respect -Q for quit and -W for close window? A company whose most integrated product, Office, can't copy text from Exel to PPT without losing the font type and font size?
        I could go on for ages. Msoft products are nowhere near meeting consistent, or sensible, gui or keyboard guidelines.
        And even when they come up wi

        • Re:GUI hygiene (Score:4, Insightful)

          by xelah ( 176252 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @07:56PM (#25928633)

          You are joking, right?

          I'm not. Go and read them - or your target platform's equivalent - and then decide whether they give you any insight in to anything. I've no idea how well Windows follows Microsoft's own guide and I don't especially care, I hardly ever use their products. However, your Windows applications are unlikely to come out any more consistent with other Windows applications if you ignore their guidelines (which, incidentally, say that Ctrl-W should close the current tab/active object/window and that Ctrl-Q is one of a small number of keys they recommend for application-specific shortcuts because it's east to press and they haven't assigned a standard meaning). In particular it's likely to alert you to things you've missed - like phrasing or capitalising text in a way not consistent with the rest of Windows, or putting commit buttons in an unusual order, or missing out accelerator keys.

          The people who write these things have spent a lot more time working on, refining and thinking about user interfaces than the typical developer, and your own interfaces will come out better if you at least consider what they have to say.

          If your target platform is not Windows and you don't care about Window's standard spacings or dialogue box button order it may still be worth reading, for example, the section on layout starting on p581. This covers, amongst other things, the order in which they've found users scan the objects in a window (interactive controls first, footnotes, blocks of text and the window title last - and with a tendency to read top left to bottom right). Even better, read your own platform's guide, if it has one. Don't just assume that as an experienced user you know all of the conventions.

        • You are joking, right? "User experience guidelines" from a company that

          This is ridiculous. You've obviously never worked with SAP or (much worse) in-house software. What you're doing is whining that the goose liver in the Christmas hamper is such a small can.
  • Luddites Unite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by value_added ( 719364 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @07:33AM (#25923969)

    Quothe the fine article:

    Assistive technologies are built on the assumption that it's the people who have to adapt to the technology. We tried to reverse this assumption, and make the software adapt to people.

    Interesting enough, but I wonder if the day will come when GUI designers who aren't catering to special-case scenarios will offer the following options:

    [x] Make no assumptions.
    [x] Get out of my way.
    [x] Yes I really mean it.
    [x] No I don't want to try things first.

    When skill, knowledge and ability are penalised, it's the non-below-average group that becomes the under-represented minority. Those falling into the maligned category range from Firefox users resisting the New and Improved, Microsoft Office ribbon haters, Gnome users who like the clean interface but still resent the near-absence of customisability or documentation, to the subset of Windows Power Shell users who have actually used a command-line before.

  • "From initial tests, the system narrowed the performance gap between disabled and able-bodied users by 62%."

    There are two ways to narrow a performance gap, you know. Make poor performers work better, or slow down good performers so they don't get ahead of the group.

    The second approach is often used in math classes in high school.

    • funny? i think the above is more informative then funny, its not really funny when smart kids have to slow themselves down just so they don't get ahead of the group. it just makes them feel stupid and not want to do the work.
  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted&slashdot,org> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @07:44AM (#25924015)

    I already use a better input system in my software. In my system, there is no testing phase. You just use the program, and it grows and shrinks with you. It's like having the best of vi (speed) and notepad (simplicity) at the same time.

    But it does not even come close to my next project. And that's why I did not release it.
    Because after optimizing the input interface, I realized, that the usual graphical user interfaces are a total piece of crap. The most annoying part is that they are built like they are the biggest enemy of the keyboard. And you can basically combine all control elements (buttons, sliders, menus, labels) into one thing.

    If it is ready for the world, I'll release it as open source... something like a windowing and (g)ui toolkit with the power of the pipe operator in bash... hard to describe.

    I just have to finish my current game project first.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      will you be patenting your ideas under the name shampoo?

    • Why not release it now, in it's incomplete state, and let open source work it's magic? See if the community could help you.

      • Because there is one problem: I'm pretty sure they would
        1. misunderstand much of it, and
        2. then blame me for it being bad. ;)

        I'll release if when it's done... (which will be *before* Duke Nukem Forever ;)

        • I just want to know how you "can basically combine all control elements (buttons, sliders, menus, labels) into one thing" :)

    • "If it is ready for the world, I'll release it as open source... something like a windowing and (g)ui toolkit with the power of the pipe operator in bash... hard to describe."

      In other words a GUIfied power shell.

      • Much much more. I don't want to give too many details. That's why most of the ideas are still secrets. ;)

        Let's just say: GUI Programs in the now known sense will be a thing of the past. The whole concept of a program with files and functions to manipulate it will be twisted until it's ripped apart. (This describes it very well without giving any real details.)

  • by bhtooefr ( 649901 ) <[gro.rfeoothb] [ta] [rfeoothb]> on Saturday November 29, 2008 @08:12AM (#25924097) Homepage Journal

    GEOS actually had a user skill level function. Not sure how aggressive it was in the later versions, but the earlier versions were quite aggressive.

    The beginner mode had no file management - it just gave you an application, with a drastically simplified interface (no drop down menus,) and the program could only open one document, and I believe multitasking just didn't happen. There were giant EXIT and HELP buttons.

    Intermediate mode had applications with a full user interface (but always maximized,) and you could manage a restricted subset of files.

    Advanced let you do whatever you wanted, gave you full functionality, and actually had windowing, not maximized windows for everything.

    • Wow, I hadn't thought of GEOS in a long time. I remember using a desktop publishing program for it, it was remarkable!
  • by joelholdsworth ( 1095165 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @08:20AM (#25924133)

    Microsoft already tried this with sort of thing with Office 2000-2003. Remember infrequently used menu and toolbar items being hidden away? I do, and shudder. It made teaching people how to use it a total nightmare. Even using it as an expert user always felt clumsy.

    Good UI is not about making a UI that learns the user - a computer will never be able to do a good job of that. Good UI is about making the app easily learnable. This is much easier than it sounds: simple tidyness and consistency get you 80% of the way toward good UI. But when you start making dynamic UI, consistency is the first thing to go out the window.

    Office 2007 does this quite well (though it is themed differently to all other apps), and so it's much easier to work with than any previous versions of office.

    • by GeckoAddict ( 1154537 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:00AM (#25924495)
      If anyone is interested, Microsoft had a pretty interesting presentation at MIX [] that they posted on the web. They talk about all the usability and UI research that they did on Office 2003 that caused them to develop the ribbon for 2007, and then they spend some time talking about how they came up with the idea and worked out the details of the ribbon.

      It's an interesting presentation if you work on UI design and have some time, or are curious as to why the hell they went to the ribbon.
    • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

      Teaching people exactly where a particular option is in a particular program is entirely the wrong way to teach someone, they will end up reliant on that version and very resistant to change. So in your case, even tho office 2007 works a lot better, there are still people who refuse to move from 2003 because that's all they know.

      And of course, teaching one version of one app is no long term solution, especially in schools, as people will be using something completely different by the time they start work. W

      • I disagree. Knowing that the "File" menu is where to go to save something makes it that much easier. Knowing that the "print" option is there helps too. That's why all major OS's provide design guidelines to simplify the interface for the user. Consistency is very important especially for training new users.
    • The real problem with the "hidden" menu items wasn't the "Lets learn and adapt to the user" factor. Hidden menus do not learn and adapt to the user.

      All this does is say "If there's something that you want to do that isn't your normal activity, you will NEVER find it. Since the tech person that comes over is, by definition doing something that you don't normally do, they will have trouble finding what it takes to fix it".

      Adapting to the user? Not by removing controls that will be needed tomorrow that haven't

    • by epine ( 68316 )

      Good UI is not about making a UI that learns the user - a computer will never be able to do a good job of that.

      I'm going to write that one down beside the meme leader: that no matter how much hard drive capacity you have, the next version of the Microsoft OS will expand to fill it. This was the universal anguished cry of the mid to late 1990s.

      Update for 2010: I hear a rumor that Windows 7 will ship with over a billion distinct holographic avatars, so that no two customers share the same image. They've man

    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      Good UI is about making the app easily learnable.

      That's only part of it. Different apps have different modes of use. Some apps shouldn't be learned because people don't use them for long periods: they should just be usable straight away. Others will be used daily for years by trained experts, and the learning phase will be comparatively short: the real value there is in making the users productive, and the UI can be deep and complex. Those definitely aren't the only possibilities either; there is a sophisticated spectrum, and since the reason for that is

  • So Dubya would have just one big button on the desktop with text "INTERNETS"?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by moxley ( 895517 )

      That's already been tried....Don't you remember the wave of "simplified" consumer laptops circa 1999/2000? especially Compaqs? That is exactly what they had, a big button right above the keyboard that glowed and said "INTERNET." SOme later said "WWW."

      Then, they thought they had a good thing going so they added a special button for everything they thought the technically un-savvy user would want to do, you know, little envelope email icon buttons, little house icon home buttons...I thought - "this will be pe

      • I had one of those keyboards. Don't laugh-- I needed an external keyboard for my laptop, and the cheapest, but still half decent keyboards came with those silly keys. Never really used them. I remembering configuring the "Shopping" button to bring up

        • by moxley ( 895517 )

          Yeah, I know the kind you mean - I have a couple of those.. the keyboards with the configurable keys are actually useful, because you can configure the buttons however you like easily - the laptops that had those buttons (at least when they first came out) were terrible as they weren't quite like that.

  • by xelah ( 176252 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @10:10AM (#25924525)
    If someone with less dexterity can't use you interface, there's a good chance that typical users find it usable but irritating. Yes, I can click on an 8x8 pixel square whereas maybe some people can't...but I shouldn't have to! What makes things possible for the disabled can make the same things more comfortable for ordinary users, too. I'd also like to save a particular rant for those who think that the mouse is the best interface for filling in forms, choosing items from lists or menus and generally doing anything which doesn't involve freeform positioning. A mouse is slow, uncomfortable, gives a higher risk of injury, is frustrating and fiddly to use and should almost never be the only expected interface device. Using a keyboard is not a last resort fallback, it's a primary input device. Fields should have accelerators, I should be able to move the focus around a window and its panes with convenience, the cursor keys should work (WHY don't cursor keys work in dialogue boxes? it's not like they're needed for something else), the position of the focus should be obvious, HTML and web browsers should have keyboard navigation options, software shouldn't keep stealing or moving my focus around or let it get stuck somewhere and developers should TEST from the point of view of a keyboard-focused user.
    • by b4dc0d3r ( 1268512 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:46AM (#25925099)
      I wonder, on a daily basis, how someone less abled than I could use some of these interfaces. Not to pick on these apps but they are on my mind.
      • VLC, when it stops playing, resizes back to 1 inch by 2 inches or so. If it's maximized, and you click the exit button on the top right, there's a chance it will go away and you will click the exit button of whatever app was behind it, maximized. I trained myself to use "ALT-F-X" to quit, then they removed the "File" menu, and added a shortcut ALT-Q, so now it makes no sense among other windows apps.
      • Firefox tell you when it's time to update. It has "update" on the left side, and "skip" on the bottom right, where I am used to seeing "next" or "continue" type buttons. Then when the update is finished, the "finished" button is on the bottom right, the opposite side of the dialog from the "update" button you just clicked. So I usually hit "skip" because it's in the wrong place, then when I do hit the "update" button I'm pissed off because now the next button I have to click is right where I wanted to click in the first place.
      • Typing any sentence that includes a space in it can have any random effect on your computer. While you're typing, a modal dialog pops up and asks you something, with the default key set to "yes". Just typing the space key clicks the button. If you are a touch typist you might catch the dialog, but hunt-and-peck typists or anyone struggling to use a keyboard will have no idea that they just clicked something. So the alternate interface (keyboard) in this case interferes with the intended interface (mouse).
      • Application Minimize/Maximize buttons are RIGHT NEXT to the "close this application immediately" button. How in the holy crap is a disabled user supposed to deal with that?
      • Internet explorer especially, trying to navigate through forms, you get a "tab stop" on every link, form field, or any random collection of things ever. So on a site with extensive top navigation, sub navigation (left side) and hyperlinked help text, it can be hundreds of links you have to tab through to get to the form field. Of course there's the old "onLoad=javascript:document.formname.fieldname.focus()" but if I'm already typing because the site loads slowly, that function is going to make me overwrite something. In some cases, I have typed in a username, hit tab, then the page finishes loading and focuses back on the username while I type in the password in clear text. Opera used to use TAB for forms, and "a" key for links. Firefox lets you choose a mutually exclusive way of doing things, so as far as I can see there is no "links only" and "fields only" command available at the same time (accessibility.tabfocus []). If I were disabled and trying to navigate a web page, I would probably go back to lynx, or quit using the intartubes completely.
      • Especially in Windows NT-based lines, hard disk I/O is prioritized. I can't tell you how many times I switch between applications, or even just try to accomplish something in Windows while I/O is going on, and I can't even figure out what's going on. CTRL-ALT-DEL does not bring up the task manager for 30 seconds to a minute. ALT-TAB doesn't switch, or the application seems hung. Can't click on any explorer windows (and explorer is almost the entire graphical interface). But when it comes up, Task Manager reports 20% or lower CPU usage, often 95% plus is going to the system idle process. I can't cancel anything when that happens, just have to wait for your computer to do what it wants before it does what I want. This isn't particularly a user's abilities complaint, but the interface should actually interface - not be a one way read only "I'm busy doing something, come back laterface". Especially with multithreading and multiple cores!
      • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

        I agree with you about modal dialogs...
        I absolutely despise anything that automatically focuses itself, especially when it's not a sub dialog of the program you are currently using. It's shear arrogance that the authors of these programs felt that the message their program has is more important than whatever you may already be doing.

        I want configuration, i want the dialogs to come up in the background or the same workspace as the parent app (ie in the same place as the app generating them), perhaps beep at

        • The worst for me is when I launch an app, and while it's launching I click back on another app and am typing... and when the new app finishes loading, it steals focus... grrr

          Or I'm busy typing along somewhere and a new dialog steals focus, sometimes for another program. It's frustrating enough to have the new dialog pop into visibility but then to also steal focus? Absolutely infuriating!

          Do it like OS X does when possible... bounce the icon in the tray and don't steal my focus.
  • by Chemisor ( 97276 ) on Saturday November 29, 2008 @11:04AM (#25924847)

    As a person with sensitive eyes, I am constantly annoyed by applications setting backgrounds to white. White backgrounds hurt, people! And I mean actual physical pain here. So if you are writing some application, please use system colors, or at the very least let the user change the color scheme. In ten more years your eyes will get tired too, and trust me, you'll thank me.

    • It would be nice to have a 'color blind' choice as well. i.e.The pastel colors in Outlook are especially frustrating for an executive assistant I know who manages multiple calendars. and Some people cannot see "highlighted" words or the change in color after they select them because similar colors are used.(Facebook is a great example) If anyone knows of programs that have this already, please let me know.
    • and for you web designers out there - Some of us have web-browsers that respect system colours - so If you change the colour of the background change the colour of the text as well - it is not much fun looking at almost white grey text on a white background.
  • "...because most computer programs have standardized button sizes, fonts, and layouts, which are designed for typical users."

    Not for long. With OS X and WPF out, most applications will have custom widgets that look nothing like the widgets in other programs. Managers who love cool shading and alternate look and feel will be redirecting UI guidelines. Oh, and the little bit of keyboard support remaining in Windows and OS X - forget that too.

  • One of the biggest issues i have with buttons and fonts within interfaces, is how so many of these elements are based on bitmap sizes, and thus look really small on a high resolution screen...
    An inch should still be an inch, regardless of how many pixels it requires to represent an inch.. Monitors can report their physical size, X11 can use this information (windows still cant, not sure about osx), and yet there are still countless apps and websites that expect a certain dpi or they look wrong.

    • by paulbd ( 118132 )
      i'd like to see you try this "1 inch always == 1 inch" with a beamer or other projection system. management of DPI scaling is, sad to say, *much* more complex than you are suggesting.
    • First, you can adjust the DPI in every desktop environment I've seen, including Windows; if it bothers you that much feel free to tinker. Second, if things are always going to appear the same size, as in "one inch equals one inch", what's the point of having a higher-resolution screen? I value my 1680x1050 resolution over the standard 1280x900 screens everyone else gets at my company -- even though the screens are the exact same size, I can have a lot more windows open and visible at a time. If everythin
      • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

        Because you get more detail on the larger screen... Making them very useful for graphics work among other things.
        Larger resolutions also usually accompany larger screens.

        What's stopping you decreasing the font size on the 1280x900 screen to get more stuff on the screen?

        Screen dimensions need to map to real life sizes, you need to know that 1 screen inch equals 1 physical inch..

        Font sizes are measured using points, 72 points equals 1 inch, if your system renders the text smaller on a higher resolution screen

  • Now if only they could apply the same methodology to the user's level of knowledge. Doing a quick questionnaire strikes me as considerably easier and faster than having to enable advanced options, enable the display of file extensions and hidden files, etc etc on a new computer.
  • Dammit, I'm tired of people trying to automate everything. Having trouble making your UI accessible? Why, just boot up some development software and let the computer do everything for you.

    I'm glad that the field of interface design has become much more important over the years, but we still have a long, long way to go. Real interface designers are aware of issues such as tiny print, bad widget groups, color blindness, and alternative input devices. That's what we do.

    Trusting technology to solve the prob

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson