Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Vista designers – beware of dynamic information

I just watched an interview with Kam Vedbrat, a lead program manager on the AERO team which redesigned the User Interface of Windows Vista.

The interaction design industry needs a set of formulated rules. Really. Axioms describing the few do's and dont's that we actually know about, preventing old mistakes from being implemented over and over. After all, we're dealing with a science here.

I'm thinking of the window buttons (close, maximize, minimize) of the Vista calc(ulator) window: The actual options light up first when the user hovers the mouse pointer over the buttons.
Apple has almost the same mistake going (although not as severe) with the close, fit-to-content and minimize buttons of the aqua windows: The function of each button is revealed (although I wouldn't say apparent) first when the user hovers the mouse over these buttons.

The same design mistake can be found later in the interview, as Vedbrat demonstrates the Vista task bar: as he hovers over each task bar item, a minimized preview of the corresponding window is shown immediately above.

In this case, the ole' screen space excuse is noted into the log.


However,

a user interface can be said to consist of two elements: information and information. One is static, and the other is dynamic.
If one of them is to take up more screen space than the other, it's the dynamic one: The location and content of minimized windows is constantly changing. What is constantly changing, is constantly harder to find (let this be an entry into that set of interaction axioms).
What's even worse is that minimizing yet another window will change the location of other, already minimized windows.

Besides, if what is said in the interview (about the amount of windows an average user uses) is true, namely four, screen real-estate really isn't a problem here. Although the Mac OS X (in?)famous dock also has its problems, it does show previews of each minimized window, constantly visualized. Good Apple. Now if only the minimized windows were to stack around their application icon somehow...

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You keep saying "this is a mistake" and da da da but you don't say WHY it is bad... In fact this post points to lots of examples of problems that aren't explained.

Terrible post, needs to be re-written.

9/22/2005  
Blogger Yankee said...

I had to read this three times before I really understood what you're complaining about. You're bringing up a problem that plagues almost every popular desktop environment, and not just windows.

First, the layout of the minimize, maximize and close buttons are for the most part static. Apple even has the decency to color code them, which is great for everyone who isn't colorblind. You presume that everyone who sits down to the computer, has never used a computer before. The truth is, we use them everyday, and after two hours, I think the human brain can hardwire the location of these buttons.

Secondly, the windows taskbar is understandably a horrible system. All I see is a criticsm of a user interface element that is 10 years old. Adding previews is not the best place for Microsoft to spend resources, but good luck convincing them to change it. If you want to see a change, go run Fluxbox, or Litestep with a Fluxbox theme.

I think Microsoft would like to get rid of the taskbar, but its much harder for them, than for an independant developer.

9/26/2005  
Blogger srussian said...

Yeah, well Microsoft should definately rewrite the entire OS from scratch after this shirade called Vista.

Seriously, why do you think Windows XP has Copyright 1985 - 2001? It's because there's still code in there from way back.

But I agree with the above, this article definately needs rewriting as well :)

10/09/2005  
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