Sunday, June 22, 2003

The Design of Everyday Things

Great article (oldie (2002) but goodie!) on the the user interface design issues facing toilet paper rolls. (yes I'm serious!)

Click here to see it on Donald Norman's site

Every time I give a session on user interface design (VFP Devcon this year), I'm always tempted to go back and look at how to improve my own applications.

Certainly, new work that is being done on Foxfire! 8.0 (click here for a preview) shows some of these ideas but the general problem is always there for every developer: when building a product or a project under deadlines, interface design decisions almost always get shuffled aside until the first day you put it in front of a customer. What a pity!

The basic idea of the inductive user interface is obvious to so many yet so resisted for a great number of reasons. In many ways, it's like the new Help that Microsoft continues to improve (not the one in Fox but rather in Office XP and Messenger), where F1 resizes your application screen to 80% and then shows the help on the right hand side. The links that are placed there make it somewhat easy to find but putting better content into Help isn't the way to do it. It needs to be in the product itself!

When I was watching Beth Massi's great session on the Task Pane at DevCon, I thought of this as well. Two years ago, I commented that perhaps a developer product, like VFP, would not benefit from an Inductive interface. I then suggested that the Component Gallery be improved to make regular development easier to use.

Now, of course, in VFP 8, we see the Task Pane and the Toolbox as easier to access tools. I still can't see myself changing the way I teach FoxPro to new users ( I teach a VFP class about 3 times a year) but you never know...

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