Saturday, September 08, 2007

The trouble with computers

Making UI's easier to use ...

"Computing: They may be powerful, but computers could still be easier to use. Might new forms of interface help?

It has been called a revolution, and rightly so. Over the past 25 years computers have become a feature of everyday life in rich countries and, increasingly, in poor ones too. Today's machines are fast—a typical desktop now has ten times the number-crunching power of the fastest machine on earth in 1983—and widespread, given that the world's 3 billion or so mobile phones are, in effect, pocket computers. But although computers have become cheaper, more capable and more commonplace, they have made much less progress when it comes to ease of use. Their potential remains tantalisingly out of reach for people who find their control systems, or “user interfaces”, too complex. And even people who have no difficulty navigating menus, dialogue boxes and so on, might use computers more productively if their interfaces were better.

Consider the Nokia 6680 mobile phone, says Adam Greenfield, an expert in computing culture at New York University and the author of “Everyware”, a book about the future of computing. He found that 13 clicks were needed to change its ringtone. “It's an interface designed by engineers for engineers,” he says. Steven Kyffin, a senior researcher at Philips, a consumer-electronics giant based in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, concedes that computer programmers and engineers, himself included, are often guilty of designing complicated systems packed with too many features. “We're compelled by complexity,” Mr Kyffin says. “There's a point where humanity just can't handle it.” Tellingly, the field of interface design even has an unwieldy name: it is known as “human-computer interaction”, or HCI.

Part of the problem is that programmers have traditionally had more power than designers. Programmers put in place the myriad features they want; interface designers then struggle to wrap them all up in a product that is simple to use. The results, all too often, are clunky interfaces. But the balance of power may now be shifting to the designers. Ken Wood, deputy director of Microsoft's research laboratory in Cambridge, England, says his company is putting greater emphasis on interface design. Three years ago, he says, none of his lab's budget was earmarked for pure HCI research. Today, a quarter of the lab's budget goes on it."    (Continued via Economist)    [Usability Resources]

Multi Touch Screen - Usability, User Interface Design

Multi Touch Screen


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