Monday, November 10, 2008

I am a User Interface Snob

What follows is a rant on a geeky topic that most normal people probably don't give a lick about. You have been warned.

One of my pet peeves is a poorly designed user interface, not just for software or web sites, but in physical objects, too. A common example is door handles in public buildings. The two kinds you encounter most often are the vertical handle and the horizonal bar that goes across the entire door. A person encountering the former will automatically tend to feel that the door should be pulled to open it, while the latter causes people to want to push it open. Yet sometimes, you encounter a vertical handle on a door that has to be pushed. They have to put a “PUSH” sign on it so that people will know they have to push it, and you will still be able to see people trying to pull it all day. Instead of putting up a sign, why not just use the right handle?

I ran into another one just now, when scanning a file with the AVG virus/malware scanner. It's nice that it scans for both viruses (Why aren't they called virii?) and spyware, but the results screen leaves something to be desired. It basically says something like this:

Infections found:0
Infected objects removed or healed:0
Not removed or healed:0
Spyware found:0
Spyware removed:0
Not removed:0

Every time that screen comes up, my brain has to sit there and figure out where I'm supposed to look to tell whether it found anything or not. The screen ought to look something like this:


Then there's that recorded voice that tells you, “You must first dial a 1 before calling this number.” Why doesn't the phone system just pretend that you dialed the 1 and connect you? I mean, we have computers now! The system clearly knows what you meant, so why not just do it?

The best interface designers understand how to make things that just do the right thing with a minimum of hand-holding. They don't clutter up an already busy amusement park by putting up a sign that reads “Don't sit on the railing;” they just cover it with bumps or pokey bits that make it incredibly uncomfortable to sit on. They don't write software error messages that just tell you that it didn't like what you did for some arcane, programmery reason; they write ones that tell you what to do about it, or if feasible, make it impossible for you to make the mistake in the first place.

So what do you wish was better designed?


Anonymous said...

Wow I loved this blog. Now how are you and my hubby going to fix all these problems?

Anonymous said...

For me it's all of the stupid packaging that you can't get open with out a blow torch. So they want you to buy it, but they don't want you to actually USE it.

I really hate the ones that are like that but have the phrase "don't use scissors" or something like that on the package. If I can't chop it open how am I supposed to get it out?

Isaac said...

This is why I carry LOTS of cutlery on my person at all times. Yes this includes pliers and screwdrivers.