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stagnant UIs--and how to fix them



Bob Mcwhirter posted a comment on spaces :

dynamicobjects spaces is just one example of the trend of everyone wanting to make everything look like Outlook. We all complain about how crappy MS software is, how they can't design a humane interface to save their ass, yet we attempt to make every application look like Outlook.

I comment ed in his weblog entry replying to that, but I also wanted to expand a bit more on the idea.

Bob later sent me an email explaining that he wasn't specifically 'picking on' spaces specifically but just making a general comment on the sorry state of UI design. I happen to agree with him, and I'd like to expand a bit more on why this is so and nevertheless spaces looks like outlook. I spent a lot of time soul-searching, trying out different interfaces for spaces in its early development. It's a difficult problem: how to evolve a model that many people use, without making them feel uncomfortable? As I've mentioned before, the answer I came up with is: you change things subtly so people feel comfortable enough to use the interface but then slowly adapt to new ways of doing things. A 'space' might look like a folder, but it's clearly not a folder, and as new features unfold, exposing the internal connections of the data, that will be more clear.

And the data is really the most important issue. As I have mentioned before and in my weblog, once your data is in spaces, you will be able to try out new interfaces without fear of having no choice but to retrain. "Gentle evolution" as opposed to radical changes. Familiarity is very important to ensure that users are not puzzled, and one of the main goals of spaces is to start improving the user interface in computers. I find most of current software to be too overloaded and cumbersome to be useful, and I want that to change. The incumbents (of which Microsoft is of course the biggest) are in no position to clean up their interfaces since there is so much investment on the part of their users on particular features of their monolithic applications. We have to start again from scratch building in extensibility from the beginning, so users can build on top of the app without requiring the app to be overly complex and difficult to use.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on November 8 2002 at 2:05 PM

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