Tag Archives: user interface design

Using reversible user options for interface design

One of the general principles of user interface design should be that when a user has to choose an option, it should be easily reversible – and it should be obvious how to do so.

Take a look at this grab, from Apple’s Keynote on iOS.

When I tapped on the button to insert an image, the iPad gave me the standard privacy control asking if I wanted to grant Keynote access to my photos. I accidentally hit “no”.

Now, whenever I open up the Photos control, I don’t see any images – but I do see an explanation of why I don’t see anything, and instructions on how to change that option if I wish.

That’s good design. It’s reversible, and it tells me how.

Touchpad scrolling is broken in Lion

As Cult of Mac notes, the default behaviour for touchpad scrolling in OS X Lion is reversed. In previous versions of OS X, you move your fingers down on the trackpad to scroll down. In Lion, you move your fingers up.

The reason for this is probably to match the behaviour of iOS, where you “push” up on screen to scroll up.

So why is this wrong? Simple: when you touch a screen, cognitively you’re directly manipulating what’s on it. Your brain expects what’s under your finger to move in the direction you push it or drag it. It’s mimicking the way that real-world objects behave.

When you move your finger on a trackpad though, you’re not directly manipulating what’s on screen – you’re manipulating it at one stage removed. There’s a cognitive dissonance to be overcome before it feels right, reinforced by the 20+ years of scroll wheel behaviour doing the exact opposite.

I hope that Apple makes this behaviour optional – because it makes about as much sense as having a single button on your mouse.

Ubuntu changes its desktop from GNOME to Unity – Computerworld Blogs

Ubuntu changes its desktop from GNOME to Unity – Computerworld Blogs:

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and the company behind it, Canonical, surprised the hundreds of Ubuntu programmers at the Ubuntu Developers Summit when he announced that in the next release of the popular Linux operating system, Ubuntu 11.04, Unity would become the default desktop interface.

Unity is Ubuntu’s new netbook interface. While based on GNOME, it is own take on what an interface should look and act like. Shuttleworth explained that Canonical was doing this because “users want Unity as their primary desktop.”

What’s interesting is that this parallels what Apple is attempting to do with Mac OS 10.8 (“Lion”) – move the the default desktop metaphor away from the windowed environment that we’ve had for years in favour of something else.

I’m not surprised that this is coming from Canonical, though. If any company has pushed Linux away from being something that’s only suitable to hobbyists to a genuinely user-friendly OS, it’s Shuttleworth and his team.

How much of a success is open source?

How much of a success is open source? In his musings on open source, and how ideas cross the chasm, Alan Patrick ponders the origin story of open source, and how it relates to a particular brand of utopianism.

“The problem of course, is that many of these Utopians are the dreamers and idealists who got in early and inspired so many others to join the movement in the first place. Without these enthusiastic early adopters, these ideas would never get off the ground to be in a position where the leaders do have to grasp the nettles.”

Part of the problem, too, is that too many promises were made by open source evangelists who understood neither project management nor people management. Anyone who’s even passingly familiar with project management knows that piling more “eyeballs” on a problem doesn’t make it shallow: what you need are the right eyeballs, in the right context, at the right time. This becomes more and more true as projects become deeply complex: someone picking up the code of, say, MySQL today will have quite a long learning curve before they can meaningfully contribute to the project.

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