Thursday, August 21, 2014

Who Cares about the User?

I know better than to suggest that a conspiracy may be afoot, but I am struck by how user interfaces for many of the "utility" sites I frequent keep getting worse. I suppose than, when it comes to about of time spent with these systems, Yahoo! Mail has to be the worst offender. Most recently, it has evolved that one can no longer scroll through a long mail message if that message is embedded in a large image. Apparently, all that matter these days is whether you can flick your way through the content on your portable device with a touch screen. Any other form of interface is too old-fashioned to signify, even if it has a legitimate place in many work practices.

Most recently, PayPal seems to have eliminated all of their drop-down menus. This made figuring out how to transfer money to by checking account a bit of a treasure hunt. Apparently, training for software engineering has now relegated the user into the ecological category of a species on the brink of extinction, almost as if the software exists entirely for its own sake, rather than for what it is supposed to be doing for whom.

1 comment:

jones said...

I do find it interesting that website design has come back around to the NCSA Mosiac days, before tables and sidebars and the like, when pages would just scroll on endlessly... The Time Cube website is a curious remnant of those days...

I also think a non-trivial part of the problem (and it is a problem -- I've noticed the same trend as you!) involves a particular historical confluence. When the early graphical interfaces were designed (Macintosh, Windows 95), few people had used computers: there were no design intuitions to appeal to. So designers appealed to researchers who used empirical evidence to optimize human-computer interaction (i.e., Fitts's law).

Chapter 1 of Apple's 1995 Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines contains a list of important considerations: metaphors, direct manipulation, see-and-point, consistency, WYSIWYG, user control, feedback and dialog, forgiveness, perceived stability, aesthetic integrity, mode-less-ness.

The current version of the same guidelines say: look how great iTunes is! Design it like that!