A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

User Interface

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Hierarchical Menus with the Underrated style.display Object

One of the most common DHTML requests I get is for a Windows Explorer-style hierarchical menu, where there's a list of topics or 'folders' that a user can click on to reveal subtopics, or 'files,' within that folder. It's a common desktop metaphor that seems ever more necessary on the Web, especially as we see navigation bars incorporating larger and more complex content while still trying to fit on the screen. Hierarchical menus are a solution to the common problem of having too many links in too small a space.

Pena, Bill. O'Reilly and Associates (2002). Design>Web Design>User Interface>DHTML


Hit The Blue Up

How do you put a device that sophisticated in the hands of so many people without bringing the company to a crawl or opening a small university to train everyone? Make the interface dead simple.

Mann, Howard. UX Magazine (2007). Articles>Usability>User Interface>Minimalism


How Dropdown Hotspots Can Make Online Help Topics Less Intimidating to Users

After some deliberation, the thought came to me to try two levels of dropdown hotspots. This screen is divided in sections, so I rearranged the information so that I had a hotspot corresponding to each section. Each hotspot would expose another set of hotspots and any other information about that section in general. This would allow the user to navigate directly to what they want rather than having to scan and scroll through a bunch of text.

Minson, Benjamin. Gryphon Mountain (2009). Articles>Documentation>User Interface>Help


How Help Can Be Structured to Look Like a Website

Why would people be nine times more willing to go to a website than an online help system? Since this may have been explained in the webinar but all I have regarding it is Sarah’s tweet, my initial guess is that people tend to think a help system is static and easily outdated (they don’t know about the Agile technical writer?), while a website is fresh and frequently updated. Whether those things are actually true isn’t as important as the fact that the audience perceives them as being true. This led me to thinking that all is not lost for help authoring tools, though. I’m sure with some effort, I could make an online help system look like a website.

Minson, Benjamin. Gryphon Mountain (2009). Articles>Documentation>User Interface>User Centered Design


How Much Bandwidth is Enough? A Tbps!

In the long term we will need about a million times more bandwidth than a T1, as shown by the following list of requirements for the perfect user interface.

Alertbox (1995). Articles>Human Computer Interaction>User Interface


How To Avoid Foolish Consistency

People don't like to learn things. If they take the time to learn something, they expect to be able to apply that knowledge in many places. It follows that good designers conserve the number of things users need to learn to get stuff done. The streets in American cities are good examples of conservation of knowledge. Anywhere in America, yield and stop signs look exactly the same. Traffic lights use red, yellow, and green to mean precisely the same things regardless of the street or city. Mailboxes on street corners use the same colors and icons, so they are clearly identifiable anywhere. It becomes difficult for people when their knowledge of things breaks down. A driver from a country with different street signs who visits America will make mistakes until they learn the new signs. Even subtle variances like the difference in speed of two different yellow traffic lights can cause American drivers to make mistakes.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (1999). Design>User Interface>User Centered Design


How to Build a Better Web Browser

Web browsers are funny things. On the one hand, they’re supposed to be lightweight little programs that just let you view websites, and on the other, they carry the same burdens as operating systems and application suites, trying to provide everything to everyone. Here in this little essay I explain what I know about designing browsers. I’m in the lucky minority of people that have actually designed successful browsers, or parts of them, for any length of time, and with Firefox and Opera in the headlines, and the art of browser design becomes important again, I thought I’d write down some of what I know. Its been years since I was a program manager on the Internet Explorer project, but I’ve maintained interests in the design of navigation and searching systems of all kinds: what follows is a rough summary of what I’ve learned.

Berkun, Scott. ScottBerkun.com (2006). Articles>Web Design>User Interface>Web Browsers


How to Design a Web Table of Contents

There's something in our human nature that makes us want to dive into things, to browse, to dabble. We first try to program our VCRs without looking at the manual. We drive for awhile; if we get lost, we look at a map or ask directions (or not, depending on our gender).

Toub, Steve. WebTechniques (1999). Design>User Interface>Web Design


How to Design an Effective User Interface   (PDF)

Technical communicators who work as members of software development teams often act as user advocates. Part of this role includes working with developers to design screens that allow users to easily use the software and understand the information presented. This workshop presents various exercises and handouts which help attendees develop an easy-to-use and understand interface for users.

Chiricosta, Tracey C. and Alice A. Jones. STC Proceedings (1995). Design>User Interface


How to Design an Effective User Interface   (PDF)

Technical communicators who work as members of software development teams often act as user advocates. Part of this role includes working with developers to design screens that allow users to easily use the software and understand the information presented. This two-part workshop presents various exercies and handouts which help attendees develop an easy-to-use and understand interface for users.

Chiricosta, Tracey C. and Alice Alspach Jones. STC Proceedings (1996). Articles>User Interface>Usability


How to Improve the UI--Really!

A colleague has made me realize that user assistance writers are codependents of bad UI design. Because we explain how the UI really works, we somehow leave our developers and companies feeling like they're "covered" when the users have a bad experience.

Hughes, Michael A. User Assistance (2009). Articles>User Interface>Documentation>Technical Writing


Human Factors

Human Factors is often used interchangeably with User Interface Design or Human-Computer Interface. There is a lot of overlap in these disciplines; however, Human Factors generally refers to hardware design while HCI generally refers to software design.

Usernomics. Design>Human Computer Interaction>User Interface


The Human Factors of Touch Input Devices   (members only)

The popularity of touch input devices for use in a wide variety of information, telecommunication, and other systems applications warrants a review of the role of human factors in the design and use of these devices, particularly touch screens and touch pads. This report reviews empirical research into the human interface design issues of touch input devices including display mounting angle, touch biases, touch area size and shape, feedback, and touch key interaction strategies. The limitations and capabilities of the devices for supporting a variety of tasks are examined as are comparisons between these devices and more conventional input devices such as keyboards. Attempts to improve the user interaction with these devices are also reviewed. Conclusions and recommendations regarding the use and design of touch input devices are provided.

Lee, A.T. Beta Research (1997). Articles>Human Computer Interaction>User Interface


Human Interface Design Principles

This section provides a theoretical base for the wealth of practical information on implementing the Aqua interface elements presented in the rest of this book. You’ll undoubtedly find that you can’t design in accordance with all of the principles all the time. In those situations, you’ll have to make decisions based on which principle or set of principles is most important in the context of the task you’re solving. User testing is often an excellent way to decide between conflicting principles in a particular context.

Apple Inc. (2003). Design>Human Computer Interaction>User Interface


Icon Analysis: Evaluating Low Spatial Frequency Compositions

Icons that are difficult to tell apart can lead to disastrous consequences. Queen shows us how studying the way the human visual system encodes information can lead to more effective icon design.

Queen, Matt. Boxes and Arrows (2006). Design>User Interface>Usability



Free simple icons for your next project.

Iconmonstr (2014). Resources>Graphic Design>User Interface


Icons: Much Ado About Something   (PDF)

Every battle has a psy-ops component, otherwise known as psychological operations. Each side attempts to demoralize the other and re-moralize its own troops. In UI design, the battle against GUIs from hell is no different. Recall the evil influence of cryptodesign – design ideas that work for certain situations but get misapplied in other, quite different circumstances. We’ve seen a lot of developer trauma associated with icon design: cryptohyperinconitis. But hang on. This article gives you, the troops in the field, some psycho-innoculation against the cryptic IMFAP syndrome (Icon Mania, Fetish, and Phobia)!

Schaffer, Eric M. Human Factors International (1996). Design>User Interface


IDEA 2008: An Interview with Bill DeRouchey

Bill DeRouchey is fascinated with buttons and the history of interface design. He talks to us as he prepares for IDEA 2008, October 7-8. In Chicago, Bill hopes to help attendees expand their sources of inspiration to include just about anything in their everyday lives.

Unger, Russ. Boxes and Arrows (2008). Articles>Interviews>User Interface>User Experience


Image Links vs. Text Links

Years back, we compared successful clickstreams (clickstreams that resulted in users accomplishing their goals, as observed in tons of usability tests) with unsuccessful clickstreams (clickstreams where users abandoned their goals before completing), looking for any clues that would help us predict behaviors in one that we didn’t see in the other. One factor we looked for was whether the clickstreams contained image links versus text links — does one type of link show up more often in successful clickstreams than the other. Our finding was when users clicked in image links they were just as likely to succeed or fail as when the clicked on text links. There was no statistically-meaningful difference.

Spool, Jared M. User Interface Engineering (2006). Articles>Web Design>User Interface>Hypertext


The Impact of Globalization on User Interface Design

Did you ever try to use a machine that has been programmed in a foreign language? Or perhaps, even with an unfamiliar character set? Suddenly everything seems to be different although only the language has changed. This is the situation faced by many foreign users that work with German machines.

Zühlke, Detlef, Alexander Bödcher and Kersitn Röse. Tekom (2006). Articles>User Interface>Globalization>Localization


Impairment and Design

We are all impaired to some amount. I realized this a few years ago as a musician, moving heavy amplifiers to gigs. Those little ramps that had been required by law (at least here in Australia) for wheelchairs were my saving grace.. instead of lifting the hefty equipment I could roll it into the building. It probably saved me more than once from back injury. And yet, there would be no way the institutions would have put in those ramps for my convenience.

Lang, Keith. UI and Us (2008). Articles>User Interface>Accessibility


Including Recommendations in User Interfaces to Enhance Motivation

Motivation is an important factor in any kind of online interaction or transaction. People need a little encouragement when they’re not really convinced they should take any action or are uncertain about what action to take next. As users perform tasks online, they need to understand what’s happening and expect you to help them move forward. This article discusses the responsibility of a user interface to provide recommendations along a user’s path of interaction.

Kirmani, Afshan. UXmatters (2009). Articles>User Interface>Help>User Experience


The Inclusion Principle

Affordance allows us to look at something and intuitively understand how to interact with it. For example, when we see a small button next to a door, we know we should push it with a finger. Convention tells us it will make a sound, notifying the homeowner that someone is at the door. This concept transfers to the virtual environment: when we see a 3D-shaped button on a web page, we understand that we are supposed to “push” it with a mouse-click.

Link-Rodrigue, Margit. List Apart, A (2009). Articles>Web Design>User Interface>Usability


Inductive User Interfaces: A New Opportunity for Writers   (PDF)

Discusses inductive user interfaces, which use single screens to guide users through each task in a software program.

Carlson, Janice L. Intercom (2002). Design>User Centered Design>User Interface


Information Architecture for the Rest of Us

The purpose of this article is to explain information architecture in a very simple and clear manner. If you have been confused about information architecture and what it is all about, this is exactly the article you should read. An analogy is used to get at the core concepts and several useful examples are provided.

Rhodes, John S. WebWord (2002). Articles>Information Design>User Interface



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