Friday, September 30, 2005

iRant: User Interfaces

My wife and I went looking for a new mobile phone today and it brought to mind some long-standing complaints I have about a lot of user interface developers. For instance, why do I have to press and hold down a red button, the "off" button no less, to turn on a cell phone? On my car stereo, why do I have to press and hold in the "audio" button to change the clock? Speaking of clocks - I've set a lot of alarm clocks in my time and I'm a pretty quick study in those types of things, so how is it that the alarm clock in our guest room took me several minutes to figure out - a task I was assigned after both of our guests in that room were unable to set it? There's so many instances of bad user interfaces around that it just boggles the mind.

I helped teach a computer science class on user interfaces during my Master's degree at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and I loved it. We have a rich visual history that can, if we use it, supply us with a great deal of information without resorting to the written word. Red means stop, guys - or off - it certainly doesn't mean on - why can't I just hold down the green button on my cell phone to turn it on? At this stage in our evolution, many devices should be operable without resorting to instructions - we're pretty tech-savy apes at this point, so why is there so little effort to unify the symbol-ism that we've all internalized into the development of consistently understandable user interfaces? This is one reason why I love Apple products so much - I don't need to read the manual, it's intuitive b/c Apple UI designers study how users USE things, so what gives with so many other companies (VCR makers take note! :-) )?

I've brought up just a few instances of poor user interfaces, yet I come across new examples every week. Anybody out there want to share some of their worst UI experiences? It's just a comment away... :-)

PS: Woo hoo, got today's post in before midnight!
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9/30/2005 10:21:00 PM  

3 Comments:

Blogger purplejoolz said...

Jeff, I'm really enjoying your spot on CommandN, you have a great delivery and belief in the products you review. Well done for starting a blog! You kinda remind me of that guy Billy in 'Six Feet Under' (in looks and mannerisms, not his mental condition). Keep up the great work and thank you...

October 01, 2005 3:06 AM  
Anonymous Lenny Nuccio said...

It's not the interface, it's you. At the, still young, age of 28 I've learned I cannot operate technology as quickly as I used to, say at...15. I've been programming and using computers since the age of 5 and now if I have a technical question, such as TV or Tivo questions, I call the neighbor and ask to borrow their 12 year old son.

But seriously, that’s why I am such a Mac loyalist. They spend billions of dollars in R&D to make sure that the interface they put on their products works intuitively with it’s user. Most companies are too concerned with the bottom line and don’t think so much about repeat business. I look at my iPod and always wonder why everything else in my life can’t turn on and off as simply.

October 01, 2005 10:14 AM  
Blogger Jeff MacArthur said...

Purplejoolz - I love Six Feet Under (fantastic series ending!), though I appreciate you qualifying that I'm not quite as wacked as Billy ;-) .

It's crazy, as Lenny points out, how kids absorb technology today. But I'm totally willing to play the "Apple premium" for UI that doesn't need you to have absorbed bad UI for your whole life to figure out :-) .

October 13, 2005 8:27 PM  

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