September 27th, 2012

Scrollbars Through the History.


Nine out of the eleven pictures are of scrollbars from Apple's MacOS and iOS or Microsoft Windows, with one of the other two from NeXTstep (a.k.a. MacOSX's eccentric uncle) and the other of the Xerox Star (a.k.a. the grandfather of every other GUI shown). No room for scrollbars from other interesting Graphical User Interfaces from the 1980s and early 1990s?1 For shame…

Digital Research GEM Commodore Amiga Workbench Acorn RISC OS Palm OS Psion EPOC32 X Window
GEM scrollbar (Atari ST version) Amiga Workbench scrollbar Acorn Archimedes scrollbar Palm OS scrollbar EPOC scroll bar X Window scroll bar

[Via Daring Fireball]

  1. Yes, I know that X Window was – among other things – a platform for building a GUI on rather than a standard interface, but there were a lot of systems that did just that.

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History repeating

June 11th, 2012

Windows (2012) = AOL (1996)?

[Via MeFi user Jimbob, commenting in this thread]

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Old people icons

May 14th, 2012

Scott Hanselman on 15 old people icons that don't make sense anymore.

A couple of his selections are spurious, I think. For example, it's true that referring to a group of options of which you can only activate one as 'radio buttons' may be archaic, but how many end users even use that term for those controls? I think they mostly know what control behaviour they signify, which is far more important for all of us, young and old alike.

Similarly with some of the others: it may be that an icon of a screen with 'rabbit ears' is referring to a dying bit of technology, but the form still distinguishes it nicely from an icon for a computer display. I don't think that replacing the TV set icon with, say, the letters 'TV' would be much of a step forward.

I'm sure that 30 years from now several of the icons listed will have been transformed or shifted in their meaning, but I wouldn't like to bet which ones. I think a number of them will stick around until the underlying concepts have been rendered obsolete. Perhaps one day we won't ever cut/copy/paste so we won't need all those clipboard-and-scissors icon sets. Not any time soon, though.


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Searching and browsing (and tapping and holding)

December 6th, 2011

In the course of a post about Browsing vs. Searching, user interface guru Bruce Tognazzini touches on something central to the experience of using the current generation of Apple software:

[…] Instead of working to make everything visible to the user, Apple's industrial and graphic designers, now fully in command, are doing just the opposite: Apparently bereft of even the barest knowledge of behavioral (HCI) design, they have busied themselves hiding everything they can, increasing visual simplicity at the expense of actual simplicity. Then, they pretend both to themselves and to us that the only instruction you'll ever need for an iPad is, "Turn it on." iPad users are left to stumble around, trying to find the things they need to get their work done, things so carefully hidden that without a friend to help them, they are unlikely to ever find them.

Case in point: At some point in the past, perhaps the distant past, Apple added the capability to jump from letter group to letter group by holding down on the letter column, rather than just stabbing at your letter of choice (and usually missing). After four years of using iDevices, during the course of writing this column, I accidentally held down for a second on an alpha character, causing the slide bar to appear. I never knew before that moment that hold-and-slide even existed in Contacts. Principle: If a capability is not visible and the developer does not teach that capability, it may as well not exist.

Damned straight! I had no idea the slide bar existed until I read that last paragraph earlier this evening.

I like iOS, I really do, but it's a crying shame that the most usable portable computers I've ever owned were designed by Palm1 and Psion2 back in the 1990s.

Come on Apple, you can do better than this…

[Via Daring Fireball]

  1. I loved my Palm IIIx and Tungsten T. The T5 was prettier and had better hardware specs, but by then PalmOS was clearly running out of steam.
  2. My Psion Series 3c was the best-engineered portable hardware I've ever owned. The Psion Series 5 came with tremendously capable software, but it wasn't as robust, and it was orphaned when Psion decided to concentrate on making software for smartphones.

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Future Drama

November 22nd, 2011

Future Drama: a compilation of designers of the (mostly quite recent) past's visions of the future, with a particular emphasis on videos depicting futuristic technology being deployed in real world situations.

You know the sort of thing: currently the trend is to depict elegantly dressed rich people toting around ultrathin tablet computers that they control via touch interfaces (often with some form of holographic display) whilst engaged in their job as a knowledge worker and/or high powered executive. Back at their hotel room after a hard day's collaboration, they use the device as a fancy videophone to chat with their cute pre-teen daughter back home about how school went today. 1 2 3

I snark, but I do find this sort of speculative work fascinating. Also, the Matt Jones blog post that pointed me in this direction is well worth a read: I've always seen this sort of video as a marketing tool aimed at gaining mindshare, but he's found that for designers placing their ideas on screen in the context where they'll be used can be immensely valuable, insofar as it helps them assess whether their ideas 'fit' in the real world. Good stuff.

[Via Comment #4 on a post at BERG Blog. TED Talk on a real-world Minority Report user interface via Wikipedia]

  1. Just like how ten years ago the future was going to involve lots of sharply dressed rich people organising their work and their lives via big screens employing Minority Report-style user interfaces whilst engaged in their job as a top executive or senior knowledge worker. Back at their hotel room after a hard day's collaboration, they'd use the device as a fancy videophone to chat with their cute young daughter back home about how school went.
  2. By contrast, fifteen years ago, our senior knowledge worker executive would have been using a stylus-based tablet that seamlessly and instantaneously translated their handwriting into computerised text ready to email to their bosses over the internet, whilst also displaying a pop-up reminder to call their daughter when they got back to the hotel.
  3. I can't help but notice that none of these devices ever has a red battery power indicator blinking away in one corner, reminding the user that they need to find a USB socket some time in the next thirty minutes if they want to keep using it. Funny, that…

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Perfectly obvious in hindsight

July 8th, 2011

A List of Completely Wrong Assumptions About Technology Use in Emerging Economies.

Does exactly what it says on the tin. Fascinating.

[Via currybetdotnet]

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Take a dip

March 31st, 2011

Talking of tablet computing, here's a nice line from Josh Clarke:

[…] a tablet is like a phone as a swimming pool is like a bathtub. Similar on the surface, but intended for entirely different uses.

[Via carpeaqua]

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iPad multi-user login

January 18th, 2011

I posted last October about my surprise that the iPad didn't allow for multi-user logins to preserve the security of each user's logins. Matt Jones has done Apple the favour of sketching a multi-user UI for the iPad.

It's nice but, like commenter Michael O'Brien, I wonder if I'd be able to live with the asymmetry if my iPad had only three users and had to leave a corner vacant. Come to that, what if my iPad had five users and it ran out of corners? Simpler, I think, to have a centred list of potential users to choose from, much like the standard login dialog for OS X.

All this remains academic until Apple decide to build in the requisite functionality, but surely that'll come one day.1 Even if the price of an iPad falls by 50%, I find it hard to believe that enough households will buy multiple iPads to keep Apple ahead of the pack. Though if any company can persuade families to buy an iPad Family Pack – 5 for the price of 4 – it's Apple.

There again, Apple being Apple they'll just as likely be thinking at least three steps ahead of us mere mortals even as I type this. Perhaps they're going to wait as the clamour for a multi-user iPad grows, then release an iPad 3 that does facial recognition on the fly so that it 'knows' who is using it and invokes Fast User Switching to fire up the appropriate account automagically, or the Guest account if the user's face isn't recognised.

  1. It all depends, to my mind, upon whether they have to contend with rival tablet makers whose devices make it easier for individual users to protect their login details so they can safely share their tablet with family members. As long as the iPad is the only serious game in town tablet-wise Apple will be under no great pressure to change their approach.

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LCARS and the iPad

August 5th, 2010

Possibly the geekiest reason ever for a lack of enthusiasm for the iPad:

(Amusingly, my own long-term fear of touchscreens is based on the LCARS displays on Star Trek: TNG. Rather than have the actors learn where all the functions were located they just had them perform contextual actions and fill in the interface in post-production. Dangerously complex machinery with dynamically inconsistent control interfaces. Whenever the ship got torpedoed and the bridge crew fell against their control panels I used to worry they'd end up accidentally ejecting the warp core or something…)

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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UI design

April 18th, 2010

Even if the iPad turns out to be a footnote in the history of personal computing, the challenge of making good use of the touchscreen/tablet form factor has at least prompted some interesting writing:

  • Information Architects takes a very practical look at Designing for iPad. Much justified scepticism here about mixing imitations of real-life objects and conventional computer interface elements like scroll bars.
  • Dan Hon calls on designers to learn from Movie OS. I'm hoping they don't; what works in a single scene of a screenplay – where the intention is to draw the attention of the viewer, not the character, to what's happening on the computer's screen – would work as a user interface element that the user might see twenty times per day.

[iA post via swissmiss, Dan Hon's post via Ben Hammersley]

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