Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Graphical Keyboard User Interface

An overview of GUI keyboards ...

"The history of user interfaces can be very briefly summarized into two distinct eras: the command line, followed by the graphical user interface. Interactions on the command line are very fast, but the set of possible commands is not discoverable. GUIs are essentially the opposite, on both issues. Interactions with graphical user interfaces are slower, but possible commands are given visual affordances, and icons attempt to convey possibly commands through metaphors.

The GUI is largely considered superior to command line interfaces that predated it, but that isn’t entirely true. For instance, while I was in college a majority of students preferred Pine (screenshot) over graphical email clients like Outlook. A group of students in a human computer interaction class I was in did an in-depth analysis of the usability of each application. They found that across a wide variety of metrics, like simplicity, system response time, and (most critically) overall time on task, Pine knocked Outlook’s toolbar-customizing-dialog-poping-drag-and-drop socks off.

Tradeoffs

Instead of trying to conclude which is superior, a GUI or a keyboard-based interface, it is important to note the specific tradeoffs each interface currently makes in terms of the bandwidth of output, and bandwidth of input.

Modern graphical user interfaces are clearly higher bandwidth than text-based command line interfaces in terms of output, but consider the bandwidth of input:

Standard GUIs, with their drop down menus, check buttons, and tree-lists just cannot compare to the range of options that a text interface gives effortlessly. In just five alphanumeric characters, you can choose one out of 100,000,000 possible sequences. And choosing any one sequence is just as fast as any other sequence (typing five characters takes roughly 1 second). I challenge you to come up with a non text-based interface that can do as well. (Command Line for the Common Man: The Command Line Comeback)

Graphical user interfaces often provide keyboard shortcuts to serve as accelerators. But these keyboard shortcuts are not interfaces in themselves, but simply serve as hooks into various parts of the GUI. For instance, consider control-D in Firefox, it simply pops up the bookmark creation dialog box, and suddenly the user has to go back to using the mouse (or awkward tabbing) in order to complete their task."    (Continued via Mozilla Labs Blog)    [Usability Resources]

WIMP: Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers - Usability, User Interface Design

WIMP: Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers

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