A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

User Interface

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What's Wrong with (Almost) All Web Sites

The vast majority of web sites commit usability and design violations that make it hard for users to find relevant content and functions. These problems are not difficult to diagnose or remedy. How many of these "user crimes" is your web site guilty of committing?

Streight, Steven. Blogger.com (2004). Articles>Web Design>User Interface>Interaction Design


When Management Becomes Personal: An Activity-Theoretic Analysis of Palm™ Technologies

Palm Technologies, a group of personal digital assistants or PDAs developed in the early 90s, have rapidly embedded themselves into the daily lives of users. The aim of this chapter is to provide an activity theoretic account of PDAs as technologies of text. Three questions are pursued: Out of what cultural history did Palm Technologies emerge? What motivated users to adopt Palm Technologies? How did Palm Technologies become incorporated into the activity patterns of everyday life? The evidence presented suggests that Palm Technologies work by moving systematic management techniques originally developed for organizations into the personal sphere. When systematic management becomes personal, task management separates from the task itself, leading to a fragmentation of motive that may challenge some of the basic assumptions of activity theory. This fragmentation is mediated through the space-time affordances of textualization and concurrent linearization of time. Like the systematic management of organizations before it, such textual affordances may become subject to surveillance and manipulation - by ourselves if not by others. All of this suggests that some interesting issues will arise as PDA technologies attempt to move outside of their managerial base and into the domestic sphere, in effect databasing our lives.

Geisler, Cheryl. WAC Clearinghouse (2002). Design>User Interface>Theory>PDA


Where Am I?

It seems strange to be talking about something as basic as 'navigation' 11 years into the web era. And yet, if you’re a web designer, chances are you’ve made some mistakes in this fundamental area. I know I have. So let’s go back to basics.

Powazek, Derek. List Apart, A (2006). Design>Web Design>User Interface


Where Visual Literacy and Interface Design Meet

Scientists tell us that visual communication is natural human behaviour which all normally sighted persons engage in every day and take for granted, yet it is the product of a complex human intelligence that is very poorly understood.

Hugo, Jacques. Usability News (2005). Articles>User Interface>Visual Rhetoric


Why Amazon Succeeds -- And Why It Won't Help You

Amazon is one of the best on-site search capabilities we've ever seen. But surprisingly, the reason why it works so well is likely to be the same reason why Search won't work well on your site.

User Interface Engineering (2002). Design>Web Design>User Interface>Search


Why Are Good User Interfaces So Hard to Make? Three Insights into Good Design

Last year at Internet World a woman asked me why software and Web sites were so hard to use. Let's call her Pandora. I told Pandora that either we aren't smart enough yet, or the industry has not matured to the point at which well-designed products are required for companies to be profitable. She didn't buy it. She swore that sometimes we just did it on purpose. She laughed when she said it, but I think she meant it. It's my job to make simple-to-use products, and I took what she said to heart. I said that we really are trying, and that we're getting better at it all the time. She walked away unimpressed. I went back to the hotel bar that night and thought about why things are the way they are with the Internet and computers.

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


Why Do People Become Attached to Their Products?

How can a designer increase the degree to which people bond with a product? This is the question researcher Ruth Mugge tackled, who has recently received her PhD degree on this topic at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering of Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands.

Mugge, Ruth. uiGarden (2007). Design>User Experience>User Interface


Why Good Design Comes from Bad Design

When I was a computer science/philosophy student at CMU, I took a design project course to learn about all of this interface design stuff I'd heard about. The first day of class I arrived at the studio room, and found a young man at a drawing table, sketching out different variations of the Walkman® he was designing. I got close enough to see the large sketchpad and saw 30 or 40 different variations that he had considered and put down on paper. I introduced myself, pleaded ignorance about design, and asked him why he needed to make so many sketches. He thought for a second, and then said, 'I don't know what a good idea looks like until I've seen the bad ones.' I smiled, but was puzzled. I felt like going back across campus to the computer science labs. If he's a designer, shouldn't he make fewer sketches instead of more? I didn't really understand what he was talking about until many years later.

Berkun, Scott. UIWeb (2000). Design>User Interface


Why I Don’t Like Tri-Pane Help

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, it’s no secret to you that I’m not a big fan of tri-pane help. I think it’s dated and is associated in people’s minds with unhelpfulness. But in our search for a tool that will give us a more robust Web output, I’ve discovered the main reason I don’t like tri-pane help. Tri-pane help appears to have been invented as a way to provide booklike documentation—that is to say, linear documentation. The table of contents, index, glossary are all carry-overs from when all documentation was in hard-copy manuals. While a book’s material isn’t necessarily linear, it still reflects linear thinking.

Minson, Benjamin. Gryphon Mountain (2011). Articles>Documentation>User Interface


Why is it so Hard to Make Products that People Love?

Why do so many good designs get trampled during the product development process? If everyone is trying to create something good for their customers, why is the development process so rife with disagreements and compromises that actually hurt businesses in the long run? If everyone has the same good intentions, can't the business people just make up their minds about what kind of product they want to create and let design create the right solution?

Adlin, Tamara and John Pruitt. Gain: AIGA Journal of Business and Design (2006). Design>User Interface>Collaboration


Why Mobile Phones are Annoying

Bystanders rated mobile-phone conversations as dramatically more noticeable, intrusive, and annoying than conversations conducted face-to-face. While volume was an issue, hearing only half a discussion also seemed to up the irritation factor.

Nielsen, Jakob. Alertbox (2004). Design>User Interface>Usability>Voice


Why We Get No Respect, and What We Can Do About It

It's time interface designers, or whatever we're calling ourselves, get some respect. After 25 years of whining about it, I've finally realized we have only ourselves to blame. Take control. If you look at nothing else of mine this year, please read this, act on it, and pass it on.

Tognazzini, Bruce. Nielsen Norman Group (2003). Articles>User Interface>Professionalism


Windowing the World of Online Information   (PDF)

Designing online information requires an understanding of user interface design, screen design and hypertext technologies. Multi-window environments have quickly become the standard within user interfaces and so this paper explores the application of multi-window systems to online information by reviewing the research and some of the current applications of multi-window online information.

Berry, Robert R. and Michelle Corbin Nichols. STC Proceedings (1995). Design>Web Design>User Interface


Wizards   (PDF)

Allen describes the uses, benefits, and drawbacks of 'wizards'--utilities that help users perform particular tasks.

Allen, Kristen. Intercom (2000). Design>User Interface>Wizards


Working XML: Use Eclipse to build a user interface for XM

Anyone familiar with XM -- the low-cost, open-source content management solution based on XSLT -- knows that for all its good points, it still lacks a decent user interface. In this article, columnist Benoï¿t Marchal uses the Eclipse platform's open universal framework to build a user interface for XM.

Marchal, Benoit. IBM (2002). Design>User Interface>Software>XML


The Worst Interface Ever

Never, ever, ever let systems-level engineers do human interaction design unless they have displayed a proven secondary talent in that area.

Tognazzini, Bruce. Nielsen Norman Group (2004). Articles>User Interface>Case Studies


Writer as Designer: Building Quality into the Design   (PDF)

Provides background for writers beginning to work in design and an introduction to practical methods to build quality into the design of software, forms (whether paper or online), and highly detailed processes used by diverse users. These methods support both macro and micro control of highly detailed products throughout the iterative stages of design. The workshop includes exercises and covers essential background, such as how to determine what is quality for your company and why design fails. The workshop deals with requirements for success, including the importance of standards, and with application of the methods to design specifications, user documentation, and testing. The workshop materials also include examples of the method applied to a commonly available commercial product.

Bibus, Connie M. 'C.J.' and William D. Gearhart. STC Proceedings (1996). Design>User Interface>Usability


Writing at the User Interstices

The most coveted writing assignment in the computer industry is the overview of an integrated software package. It calls for careful pacing, creative metaphor, and lavish graphics, all integrated with the highest skill. Here stands the pinnacle of a career, to be 'writing at the user interface.'

Oram, Andrew. Boston Broadside (1990). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>User Interface


Writing Error Messages

Technical writers need to be involved in the creation of usable error messages. After all, it’s the technical writer who is the first advocate for the customer in any technology company, and often, the last line of defense for quality.

JimRoyal.com (2009). Articles>User Interface>Help>Technical Writing


Yahoo! Mail: Simplicity Holds Up Over Time

In many respects, email is the ideal web application: it's an application that people often need access to when they’re away from their 'home' environment, and the core user tasks (reading and writing) are easily accommodated with standard HTML interface elements.

Garrett, Jesse James. Boxes and Arrows (2002). Design>Web Design>User Interface>User Centered Design


The Yahoo! User Interface Library

The YUI Library is a set of utilities and controls, written in JavaScript, for building richly interactive web applications using techniques such as DOM scripting, DHTML and AJAX. YUI is available under a BSD license and is free for all uses.

Yahoo. Resources>Web Design>User Interface>JavaScript


Year's 10 Best Application User Interfaces

Many winners employ dashboards to give users a single overview of complex information and use lightboxes to ensure that users notice dialogs. Also, the Office 2007 ribbon showed surprisingly strong early adoption.

Nielsen, Jakob. Alertbox (2008). Articles>User Interface>Usability


Your Design Is Infringing On My Patent: The Case Against User Interface and Interaction Model Patents and Intellectual Property

Companies often file for and the US government actually grants patents for user interface and interaction design 'innovations' that are either strikingly obvious or have appeared before in other systems.

Sherman, Paul J. UXmatters (2007). Articles>Intellectual Property>Patents>User Interface


Your New Excuse to Get an Xbox: How UX Professionals Can Learn from Video Game Design

Games are fun, addictive, beautiful, and immersive. Websites, for the most part, are not. Take a moment and think about what video games look like, what they sound like, the way you can move on the screen, what “you” can be. Think of how you feel when you play and who you play with. Consider the launch of Halo 3 on Xbox 360, with unprecedented graphics, sound, and interactivity that Time.com called “refined to the point where it delivers only pure unadulterated gaming bliss.”

Northrop, Mia. Boxes and Arrows (2008). Articles>User Experience>User Interface


Zebra Striping: More Data for the Case

I recently conducted a study into the helpfulness (or lack thereof) of zebra striping—the shading of alternate rows in a table or form. The study measured performance as users completed a series of tasks and found no statistically significant improvement in accuracy—and very little statistically significant improvement in speed when zebra stripes were implemented.

Enders, Jessica. List Apart, A (2008). Articles>Web Design>Human Computer Interaction>User Interface



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