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Wandering lonely as a clown...

Interface design

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by , 30th May 2009 at 12:21 PM (1963 Views)
One of the things that bugs me in education ICT is the massive amount of poorly designed GUIs floating around.

We've all seen them, pieces of software which are so poorly laid out, or confusing to configure that you want to pull your hair out.

I'll give an example - TextEase 2000. The interface for dragging and dropping things on to a page is fine. But what about if you want to print, and do something other than the default. The GUI to do that is near impossible to fathom. Or the fact that the program lacks many of the simple basics that you expect from a word processor. Yet, because of the earlier mentioned ease of dragging and dropping, teachers seem to love it.

Another example of poor interface design - SIMS.net and it's error messages. Now, I don't deny that error messages are a necessity, but the way SIMS.net handles them is a nightmare. Spewing random numbers at users, and crashing the client entirely is not good program design. Sure, we want to be able to trace errors as technicians, but this can be done quite simply - integrate the error reporting into Event Viewer. And display a simple message stating that a problem occurred, and that it has been logged. Most users will never look up the errors, but the technician will.

This lack of thought over interface design doesn't just affect the smaller companies though, it also affects the giant companies, like Apple. Mac OS X has that useful tool the 'Dock'. On the Dock is a waste bin, where a user can drag and drop files to delete. Not a problem on its own, but what if you are actually trying to drag an item into the dock to display instead? A mere few millimetres stands between accidentally dropping the file into the waste bin rather than where it was intended to go. Poor design yet again.

Now, I'm no GUI designer, but sometimes, it appears that these companies never do any testing of their interface design before publishing their software.

So, this is a plea to the software companies of the world - spend a bit more time before releasing your software testing it on the intended audience. Involve the technicians that will be supporting it in organisations too, not just the end users. It'll reduce your support calls, and it will reduce the hassle that your customers have to put up with.
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