Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

the three-pane question revisited

There were some good comments to my entry a few days ago "the three-pane question", as well as great posts in other weblogs from Eugene (of JetBrains, the makers of the excellent IDEA) and from Cristian. Thanks to everyone for the feedback.

Both Eugene and Cristian think the UI is good given the correct implementation, while some of the comments on the entry are against it (such as Russ's, or Bruno's). My personal intuition is that this change is good. There are all sorts of theoretical UI-reasons I can come up with for why the linear three-pane is better than the "old" version. For example, the eye-movement effect, that is better (particularly for western readers, without left-to-right writing/reading system), or that it's been studied to death how we read faster and how eyes get less tired when they have to move less horizontally (If you don't believe it, pick any book from your shelf. Count the words a few sentences at random. You'll rarely find more than 11 or 12 on average, maximum. This is not a coincidence).

What I find the most interesting, however, is that several comments in the entry felt that they'd have less real-estate for the content-viewing area, which is not the case. A simple example: look at the first drawing in the post, with the "classic" three-pane view, and assume that the first level pane has a width (at the base) of 1, while the second level pane has a height (at the far right) of 1 as well. Then assume that the height/width ratio of the display is 4:3, a standard TV or monitor (not those new fancy widescreen monitors though...) Okay, so the total area is 12. The area for the first-level pane is 3, the area for the second-level pane is 3 (because one unit is lost at the beginning from the 1st level pane, so 3 by 1). The content-view pane is 3 by 2, area 6.

Now, same widths for the second case: 1 at the base for both the 1st and 2nd level navpanes, which leaves 2 of width of the content pane. Area of 1st level nav: 3. Area for 2nd level nav, 3, area for content pane: 6.

Every single area is the same. Doesn't look like it, does it?

However, now, if you want to see more rows you can (by showing only one line per row) or if you want to retain almost the same level of information and still show more rows, you can do that too. No space lost.

All that said, some people might have their own reasons for why they'd prefer to keep the old UI (resolution used, or simply more comfort, and after all, that's what UI design is all about), so providing choice on the matter is probably a good idea. :)

Besides, there are other issues very specific to email that also have to be taken into account. This display mode is great for flow-formats like HTML, but in the comments Adrian pointed out that the display of quoted text emails would almost certainly require horizontal scrolling.

I've been playing on-and-off with an altogether different possibility, I'll post more details when I have processed it enough to explain it coherently.

I will add this though: I think that one of the problems with making an objective analysis of the linear three-pane UI (for everyone, for, or against it) is that it doesn't look radical. Where's the 3D? Where's the VR? Where are the visual gizmos? You call this "innovation"? We have sort of come to expect a certain "revolutionary" feel from UI changes over the years, and the linear three-pane UI disappoints there.

Anyway. More later!

Posted by diego on July 7 2003 at 12:48 AM

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