Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Satisfying UI Design is Often Illogical

On the criteria for good UI design ...

"It looks like there are a lot of people writing about the UI changes in Leopard. Everyone has their own opinion, which is fine. However, I think there is one major misperception about successful UI design: some of the most significant elements are not easily measurable.

In computer software, we're used to looking at things as objective truths. Code can be reduced to specific, measurable results which can be tested. It's really tempting to transplant this to UI design — to apply studies and industry research with the expectation that it will deliver success.

But people are much more complex than compilers. There's a lot of human nature that doesn't not fit into nice, small boxes. If an application compiles and runs, it's an objective fact that it is able to do so. In UI design, you can apply current and credible research, run tests of every sort, and still end up with something that the average person doesn't enjoy using.

Usability tests and theories about interaction are tools. Very useful tools, but still just tools — not purposes onto themselves. The real goal is user satisfaction, and some of that is really illogical and messy.

The first time this really sank in for me was when I was reading Bruce Tognazzini's book, Tog on Interface. Honestly, I don't agree with a lot of what he says about Mac OS X and iPhone, but the book included one magazine column (from 1989) that got my attention:

We've done a cool $50 million of R & D on the Apple Human Interface. We discovered, among other things, two pertinent facts:

• Test subjects consistently report that keyboarding is faster than mousing.
• The stopwatch consistently proves mousing is faster than keyboarding.

This contradiction between user-experience and reality apparently forms the basis for many user/developers' belief that the keyboard is faster.

[...] While the keyboard users in this case feels as though they have gained two seconds over the mouse users, the opposite is really the case.

(For the record, Tog later comments he likes keyboard shortcuts.)

The basic idea I took away form this is if you test, make sure you're testing the right thing. UI success may come from efficiency, but it may also come from a longer-running or more awkward task (by scientific definition) which is subjectively more pleasant to perform.

Frankly, drag-and-drop is not all that efficient, and it's pretty clumsy. It requires carefully lining things up. Yet a lot of people prefer it because the experience feels much more direct, and is therefore more satisfying. That's my theory, anyway."    (Continued via Theocacao)    [Usability Resources]


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