A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

User Interface

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Solid Ajax Applications, Part 2: Building Ajax Back Ends

Back end processing -- server-side scripts and programs -- can't always be tossed into an Ajax application and behave well. Instead, careful planning to ensure data is sent in an appropriate and efficient form ensures your entire application is cohesive, rather than needlessly complex. Brett McLaughlin explains how a good server-side script complements Ajax behavior.

McLaughlin, Brett D. IBM (2008). Articles>User Interface>Ajax


Some Tips On Navigation

Creating navigation systems, and the information structures that underlie them, is obviously a central aspect of the development of any product or web interface. Although some users may prefer not to use navigation systems, or even ignore them entirely, for many they will be an invaluable means of discovering content or functionality. Getting these structures right is an important element in designing a successful interface. Unfortunately, getting them right isn't particularly easy. In some instances it can be, but usually there is no simple way to short-circuit the process of categorisation and presentation that constitutes a navigational system. However, in this short article we do attempt to provide some brief pointers. Although we focus on web navigation, many of these suggestions are equally relevant in software interface design and indeed other technologies.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2001). Design>Web Design>User Interface


Spatial Interactive Visualization on Small Screen   (members only)

The amount of data stored in personal digital devices increases rapidly as their memory capacities increase. These devices are usually equipped with relatively small displays, which makes presenting the information a challenge. We set out to explore the spatial design space for small screen user interfaces by incorporating additional dimensions into the visual representation, and investigate techniques that may be used to display more information at once. We focus on interactive visualization, with a document manager as a target application. We present the design factors and a simulated application running on a desktop computer. We also report a formative usability study with promising results.

Hakala, Tero, Juha Lehikoinen and Antti Aaltonen. Proceedings of the Conference on Human Computer Interaction (2005). Design>User Interface>Mobile


Speech-Enable Web Applications Using RDC with Voice Toolkit

Speech applications have come to be in demand with many applications, which can sound daunting to developers who have never before made provisions for speech. Don't put it off, though, believing that it means a massive rewriting of your current offerings. It is now possible to enhance current Web applications, or develop new ones, with the Voice Toolkit and Reusable Dialog Components. Learn to construct successful voice apps, and without a big learning curve.

Dhanakshirur, Girish. IBM (2005). Articles>Web Design>User Interface>Audio


Streamlining an Interface Using Information Design Principles   (PDF)

'Information design' is the art and science of understanding problems from the product user's standpoint, and using that understanding to select an appropriate mix of graphics and text that supports the design and presents necessary information appropriately. This progression topic presents a simple, iterative way to examine a design problem, and uses that approach to solve a common design problem (using space more efficiently in a software interface).

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. STC Proceedings (2003). Articles>Information Design>User Interface


Structuring Content for Web Interface Usability

It's a well known fact that many users - both novice and expert - have difficulty finding information on websites even when they know it's there somewhere. What is less clearly understood is why - beyond the obvious fact that there is always a challenge involved in enabling access to a huge variety of information from a single entry point. When addressing this challenge, the initial focus often tends to be on the 'navigational' structures, and how the site is mapped and organised. But in reality, users tend to rely less on these navigational aids than some web designers might imagine. Most users are more concerned with achieving their goal than understanding the logical structure of the application they are using, and tend to gravitate towards the content they are looking for by following 'scent', which can best be thought of as a clear signpost to content 'below' through links and content 'above'.

Farrell, Tom. Frontend Infocentre (2000). Design>Web Design>User Interface


Stupid Dialog Boxes

Dialog boxes are program-driven, not user-driven. Care must be taken that dialog boxes not only present useful options but also that they allow users to select those options.

Berg, Neil. CHIlabs (2002). Design>User Interface


Systems Thinking: A Product Is More Than the Product

A product is actually a service. Although the designer, manufacturer, distributer, and seller may think it is a product, to the buyer, it offers a valuable service. In reality a product is all about the experience.

Norman, Donald A. Interactions (2009). Articles>User Interface>User Experience>Usability


Take a Breath Already!

One very important concept in any area of design, including interface design, is that of space. What is space? Well, obviously we aren’t talking about needing any kind of extended astronomical knowledge; space is the area with which we choose to do things. Today we will talk about this area in many different ways.

Cutrell, Jonathan. Fuel Your Interface (2009). Articles>User Interface>Document Design>User Centered Design


Take Advantage of Technology

Use technology to simplify existing processes, and take advantage of what users already understand.

Baker, Adam. Merges.net (2001). Design>Web Design>User Interface


Taming The Sticky GUI: New Roles for Technical Communicators in Graphical User Interface Design   (PDF)

As technology is changing rapidly, new roles for technical communicators are evolving. Sometimes by design, sometimes by default, technical communicators are finding themselves working in a new area, that of Graphical User Interface (GUI) design. This paper will explore 5 different roles which are being done by people with technical communication skills, and will discuss ways to develop the needed new skills to make these roles effective and productive.

Dray, Susan M. STC Proceedings (1994). Articles>TC>User Interface


Task Analysis and Associated User Interfaces for CD-ROM   (PDF)

With its enormous storage capacity, cost-effectiveness, and convenience, the CD-ROM is quickly becoming a significant research and business tool. To retrieve data from the CD-ROM, users access a search program that helps them select a subset of data from the entire database. Because the selection includes a series of complex tasks that most users are unfamiliar with, user interfaces must be task-oriented as well as intuitive and interactive. Even with a variety of interfaces, users wanted more paper documentation. When users have little experience or familiarity with the concepts and the tasks, written documentation is a better information source than computer-based information.

Feinberg, Susan G. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>User Interface>CD ROM


Task Based Documentation and Good User Interface Go Hand in Hand

As I write the 'how to' documentation based upon the in-process design, the weaknesses of my original design become apparent and I go back and forth from writing text to designing the software until it all flows.

Ferlazzo, Ellen Lawson. Sprezzatura Systems (2002). Articles>Documentation>User Interface>Usability


Task-Centered User Interface Design

The central goal of this book is to teach the reader how to design user interfaces that will enable people to learn computer systems quickly and use them effectively, efficiently, and comfortably. The interface issues addressed are primarily cognitive, that is, having to do with mental activities such as perception, memory, learning, and problem solving. Physical ergonomic issues such as keyboard height or display contrast are covered only briefly.

Lewis, Clayton and John Rieman. HCIbib.org (1994). Books>Usability>User Interface


Task-Driven User Interfaces

While it’s easy to see the direct impact that the user experience of a consumer application has on user conversions, that’s not true of user experiences for the enterprise segment of the software marketplace. Computer software that automates the business of non-software organizations is usually slow evolving. However, the user experiences of enterprise applications do have direct impact on an organization’s performance. When the applications that an enterprise employs provide better user experiences and usability, its people are more efficient and productive. The greater the cost of human resources within organization, the bigger that impact is.

Sukholeyster, Oleksandr . UXmatters (2014). Articles>User Interface>Project Management


Teaching Technical People How to Think (About Graphical User Interface Design)   (PDF)

Advances in technology have opened up new opportunities for technical communicators in the area of graphical user interface design. This paper describes our effort to take advantage of these opportunities. We have educated ourselves in the core issues of current research; we have leveraged our expertise in page layout and design; and we have participated in the development of standards for GUI design. Although progress has been slow, we are encouraged by early feedback from our management.

Janicko, Raymond P. STC Proceedings (1993). Presentations>User Interface>Instructional Design>Education


Teaching Users to Read

This may sound a little harsh, but you'll see, when you do usability tests, that there are quite a few users who simply do not read words that you put on the screen. If you pop up an error box of any sort, they simply will not read it.

Atwood, Jeff. Coding Horror (2004). Articles>User Interface>User Centered Design>Usability


Technical Communicators: How Do You Contribute to Interface Design? A Summary of Participant’s Idea Market Contributions

Research I recently conducted highlighted the high level of involvement technical communicators have in the design of user interfaces. Most technical communicators make some contribution, ranging from comments to developers if, from their perspective, something on the interface does not work, to actually designing the interface elements. This led me to propose a question for an idea market for IPCC 98 in Quebec. The question I asked participants was: How do you, as technical communicators, contribute to interface design? The question generated a lot of interest, with technical communicators sharing their experiences and providing many examples of what they do and how they contribute. Here is a summary of the points they raised.

Fisher, Julie L. TC-FORUM (1999). Design>User Interface


Ten Quotable Moments: Challenges and Responses for User Interface Designers

The following ten things have been said by actual clients and represent common and very human reactions to a new wrinkle in the process of building software: design. By gathering these comments in one place and sharing them widely, it becomes easier to recognize them, so we can keep our calm and contribute to effective software teams.

Krause, Brian R. Boxes and Arrows (2003). Design>User Interface>Usability


Testing the Usability of Interactive Visualizations for Complex Problem-Solving: Findings Related to Improving Interfaces and Help   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In visual querying, users analyze data for their decisions and problems by interacting with graphics that are dynamic and linked. This querying paradigm is new, a dramatic break from the more familiar retrieving of data via search statements and displaying of it in static charts and graphs. For this new visual querying paradigm, analysts conceptually and operationally need to master new approaches. To discover salient relationships, they need to manipulate displays. To drill down for detail or causes, they have to select data of interest directly from a graph. And to draw inferences, they have to consider meanings across several dynamically linked graphics. With the aim of studying users success in these new approaches, particularly focusing on the approach of directly selecting data from graphs, I conducted a scenario-based usability test with 10 data analysts. They interacted with visualizations to complete a realistic complex analysis evaluating employee performance. Test findings reveal a range of difficulties in visual selection that, at times, gave rise to inaccurate selections, invalid conclusions, and misguided decisions. To overcome these difficulties, support for visual selection needs to be built into interfaces and help. Results and recommended improvements are presented.

Mirel, Barbara E. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2001). Articles>User Interface>Usability>Visual Rhetoric


Text on Websites

Website text should be clear, links should stand out, and all text should scale according to user preferences.

Baker, Adam. Merges.net (2001). Design>Web Design>User Interface>User Centered Design


Text Treatment and the User Interface

Before graphic user interfaces, text was the primary means of both input and output defining human-computer interactions. Even today, much of the information user interfaces present is textual. Therefore, we should not underestimate how the right text treatment can measurably improve user productivity and increase user satisfaction. As new technologies become available—for example, larger monitors with higher resolutions—a good foundation of knowledge about effective text treatment can help designers create usable user interfaces for them more quickly.

Komischke, Tobias. UXmatters (2009). Articles>User Interface>Typography


TextArc, Visualizando Textos

La visualización de la estructura textual de un documento resulta de gran ayuda en su análisis y complementa técnicas como la lingüística computacional, al utilizar la capacidad de detección de patrones del cerebro humano.

Dursteler, Juan Carlos. InfoVis (2002). (Spanish) Design>Graphic Design>User Interface


The Thirteen Greatest Error Messages of All Time

They're rarely helpful. Actually, they usually add insult to injury. But what would computing be without 'em? Herewith, a tribute to a baker's dozen of the best (or is that worst?).

McCracken, Harry. Technologizer (2008). Humor>Human Computer Interaction>User Interface>History



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