[OT] Random thoughts about user interfaces, was: Re: Text editors

On Wed, 14 Jul 1999, Alexandru Harsanyi wrote:

> Well, my girlfriend, who is a medicine student, prefers pine and not 
> netscape mail (we use linux at home). She also used emacs and latex
> (instead of staroffice) to write her diploma thesis. All I did was giving

Ditto here, my wife gladly uses (x)emacs and latex to do some
documentation work for her job (she's a nurse). She's in this mood where
you curse Word for trying to be very clever ("I don't want it to think by
itself, I want it to do what I tell it to do").

People always find things easy to which they're accustomed (gr?).
Otherwise I couldn't explain how a lot of people day-in-day-out have to
use that bad excuse for a GUI SAP gives you with their software.

> Until we have thought-controlled software (natural language
> understanding programs are tricky because users don't know how to express
> themselves) I think the best we can do is write good documentation, good
> tutorials, and context sensitive help. It does not matter that you have to
> type :w or C-x C-s or push some save button as long as the action is

I'd like to object a bit: a GUI approach has the advantage of being
self-documented (it's more obvious to click on a save button that you see
than pressing C-x C-s which you can do only if you _read_ documentation
beforehands -- people tend to _not_ read documentation). IMHO a GUI that
can be used with keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys is a thing that appeals to
both the casual and the professional user of an application.

> documented. You can also improve the system by maintaining a consistency
> among programs. After you show a user that by pushing the save button will
> save the document, the user will look for a save button in every
> application, and he/she will say it is intuitive. However, for the first
> application is not intuitive at all you *have to* show her/him how to save
> the document.

Not quite, you have to tell them that they must save the document. The
average person will look for something she can correlate to the "Save"
phrase, i.e. something which is labeled "Save" or similar or something
which in any other form resembles to this phrase (an icon, a button
looking like furby telling you "I'm the save button, click on me if you
want to save the document" over and over until it's too much and the user
_does_ harm to the computer or other equipment).

> Have you actually asked the "general public"? If you fall in the
> "geek/nerd/hacker/developer" category, how can you tell what the "general
> public" thinks is intuitive? Or it's just what you think they think?

It's obvious that they must think what I think that they think. At last
I'm the programmer -- if not I, then who has total knowledge? :-) To be
serious (more or less), you can try to be some kind of profiler -- trying
to think yourself in the situation of other people, e.g. "I'm a farmer
who's spent the last twenty years with corn, wheat and potatoes -- how
intuitive would this user interface be to me?" (the answer is: not at all,
"If it doesn't look like some cereals or other fruit, I've no use for it"
-- this means that you should look for different customers).

If you try to forget some of your knowledge (for a while, we're not
playing Alzheimer here), you should be successful in guessing if a user
interface can be labeled as "intuitive" for a certain category of persons.

Nils Philippsen                  @college: nils@fht-esslingen.de
Vogelsangstrasse 115             @home:    nils@wombat.dialup.fht-esslingen.de
D 70197 Stuttgart                phone:    +49-711-6599405
The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be
regarded as a criminal offence.                          -- Edsger W. Dijkstra

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