Thursday, July 07, 2005

A couple days of bad UI design

Many years ago I read About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design by Alan Cooper. This books primarily talks about computer user interfaces. Anyone who uses a computer (and anyone who works in the industry) should read this book or the updated version of the book since this one is out of print.

Anyways I was thinking about this book the last few days. After almost 3 full weeks of antibiotics it is taking its toll on my digestive system so I have been spending a fair amount of time in the bathroom at work.

The first bit of bad design I came across was the brown soap in one of the dispensers. Think about this - brown soap in a bathroom. Yea, that is smart. They have since gone back to the pink goo they were using.

The second was the bathroom stalls. Now I am not exactly a normal sized person, so I expect certain problems from time to time. Normally I tend to use the handicap stall. Not a big deal since we have no one, currently who is handicap on our floor. However a lot of the taller guys also like to use the handicap stall. Given the amount of time I spent in the bathroom over the last few days I finally figured out why. The toilet paper dispensor is right at knee level, effectively shrinking the width of the stall a good 5 or 6 inches. Raising that up 6-10 inches it would probably give us enough space to slide our knee under the TP.

This has gotten me to think about cascading style sheets (CSS), skins, and programs like Grease Monkey. These things get closer to Alan Cooper's ideas, allowing the user to make the web in the above cases work like the user wants. CSS & skins allow the user to change the site (or program) so that wonderful yellow & purple color scheme to something a little more appealing. Or, more importantly, allows someone to shift the font to a larger size or make buttons larger for people who have problems using a mouse. Grease Monkey is more of a glue - allowing the user to bring in information from other web sites or to clear out modify sites on the fly.

I think some of the things I have heard that Microsoft is going to do in Longhorn (their next OS) with RSS sounds interesting. I am only about half way through their talk from Gnomedex. Some of what they said sounds good. Some of what they said I have said here before. Some of what they said could be done today. The trick here though is that we need to work with the file associations so that if we send iCal files through an RSS feed the aggregator (or whatever is reading the feed) will work with the program that is set up to work with iCal programs, not just Outlook or Sunbird or whatever. Hopefully Microsoft will embrace that idea. Converserely I hope other software companies pick up on what Microsoft is trying to do - build RSS processing in ALL programs. There will always been some of us old farts who will not move off of aggregators any time soon (hey, I still use DOS batch files), but I have to agree with Microsoft - why shouldn't a calendar program read a feed that is calendar information directly instead of going through the aggregator.

Personally, I would rather use 1 aggregator and send enclosures off to the program of choice. I do not particularly like managing my podcasts and my news/blog feeds in 2 separate programs, but for now that works out best. Maybe some day in the future we will find a better way.

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