A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

User Interface

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Calling All Designers: Learn to Write!

You know all that copy that goes around your forms and in your confirmation e-mails? Who’s writing it? Derek Powazek explains why it’s important for user-interface designers to sharpen up their writing skills.

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


Can Programmers Do Interaction Design?

In most of the organizations we encounter during our consulting work, programmers tend to think they’re the best-qualified people to design the form and behavior of a product. In the absence of trained interaction designers, they may be right. They know from experience that no one else is going to think through all the implications of serving up that snippet of data in just the right way, and no one else questions the idea of programmers doing the interaction design because they assume it’s a technology problem. As a result, executives who lead technology initiatives believe that they already get interaction design for free from their programmers. In their opinion, having interaction designers is unnecessary; if the product happens to be hard to use, they assume the programmers just need some sensitivity training. Having programmers design the product is anything but free, though; it's ineffective, inefficient, and risky.

Goodwin, Kim. Cooper Interaction Design (2003). Design>User Interface>Interaction Design


Canonical Abstract Prototypes for Abstract Visual and Interaction Design   (PDF)

Abstract user interface prototypes offer designers a form of representation for specification and exploration of visual and interaction design ideas that is intermediate between abstract task models and realistic or representational prototypes. Canonical Abstract Prototypes are an extension to usage-centered design that provides a formal vocabulary for expressing visual and interaction designs without concern for details of appearance and behavior. A standardized abstract design vocabulary facilitates comparison of designs, eases recognition and simplifies description of common design patterns, and lays the foundations for better software tools. This paper covers recent refinements in the modeling notation and the set of Canonical Abstract Components. New applications of abstract prototypes to design patterns are discussed, and variations in software tools support are outlined.

Constantine, Larry L. Constantine and Lockwood (2003). Articles>User Interface>Interaction Design>Visual Rhetoric


A Car for All - or Mobility for All? Part I

Population aging and environmental concern are two important factors that will effect the design of vehicles in the future. In response to the potential conflict between them, the authors propose a shift in focus from individual vehicles to transport services, from '€˜A Car for All'€™ to '€˜Mobility for All'€™, and offer strategies, scenarios and case studies of how this might be achieved. New service and vehicle typologies are introduced and discussed, and an area of future research and development is identified.

Coleman, Roger and Dale Harrow. uiGarden (2006). Articles>Usability>User Interface


Carl Liu: The Want Interview

Carl Liu occupies a special place among product designers, due to his proficiency in a skill many suggest has fallen by the wayside: sketching. His design work on products like Compaq iPaq, the Vortex Ring Shooter, the Kensington Webcam, and the Nike Triax 300 Running Watch resulted in design awards and positions at Astro Studios, Motorola’s Advanced Concept Design Group and even the Walt Disney Company.

Charles, Eileen and Carl Liu. Want Magazine (2010). Articles>Interviews>User Interface


Caroline Jarrett on User Interface Design

Jarrett is one of the authors of User Interface Design and Evaluation, a beginning text for technical communicators moving into user interface design. Jarrett says this book is a perfect start for users looking to add usability basics to their toolbox. She also talks about forms, and how the best forms are ones you barely notice.

Jarrett, Caroline and Tom H. Johnson. Tech Writer Voices (2007). Design>User Interface>Interviews>Forms


Case-Based Design Using Weakly Structured Information

Over 50% of the work done by the designer on a day-to-day basis is routine design that consists of reusing past design solutions (Moore, 1993). Despite of this fact, there are no tools that rationally support reuse of such solutions. Case-based design (CBD) has been pointed out as a promising aid to help this situation. In order to be of practical use, however, a case-based design system has to be able to use the information that the designer creates during the design process. The design information that the designer creates is today mostly in the form of weakly structured information, e.g. text documents, calculation documents, and 2D-drawings. This paper proposes an approach that enables capturing and representation of weakly structured information for the purpose of case-based structural design. The representation proposed allows us to apply most of the objectoriented abstract principles also on weakly structured information. It is also shown how the conceptual framework, the dependency structure, and the design process can be captured, represented, and used in CBD. The approach is successfully implemented into a prototype for reuse of computerized design calculation documents.

Johansson, Peter and Mina Popova. ITcon (2002). Design>User Interface>Information Design


Change Your Goal, Extend Your Role   (PDF)

The author suggests expanding your role as a technical communicator to enhance software usability by creating better user interface labels and application messages. Henry bases his suggestions on an integrated user-centered information design (UCID) approach driven by product usability. He explains UCID, describes how to prepare for a new role as a 'designer of product usability,' and shows how to effectively design labels and develop application messages.

Henry, Pradeep. Intercom (2000). Design>User Interface>Usability


The Church of Usability

Jared Spool goes out of his way to position himself as anything but a user-interface designer. Yet through his company, User Interface Engineering (UIE), he is a frequent keynote speaker on effective Web design, produces a monthly publication reviewing Web sites for effectiveness, and runs a series of workshops of effective Web design. Founded in 1988, UIE is an independent research, training, and consulting firm specializing in user-interface design and product usability issues. It has grown into one of the United States' leading usability research practices, conducting more than 400 usability tests each year on software and Web sites.

Spool, Jared M. Builder.com (2001). Articles>Usability>User Interface


Clarifying Search: A User-Interface Framework for Text Searches

Current user interfaces for textual database searching leave much to be desired: individually, they are often confusing, and as a group, they are seriously inconsistent. We propose a four- phase framework for user-interface design: the framework provides common structure and terminology for searching while preserving the distinct features of individual collections and search mechanisms. Users will benefit from faster learning, increased comprehension, and better control, leading to more effective searches and higher satisfaction.

Byrd, Don, W. Bruce Croft and Ben Schneiderman. D-Lib Magazine (1997). Design>Information Design>User Interface>Search


Clean, Cutting-Edge UI Design Cuts McAfee's Support Calls by 90%

When McAfee Inc. recently introduced its ProtectionPilot software--a dashboard-type management console for its Active VirusScan SMB Edition and Active Virus Defense SMB Edition suites--the trial downloads were fast and furious: In the first 10 weeks after release, more than 20,000 users went online to get a copy.

Hadley, Bruce. SoftwareCEO (2004). Articles>Web Design>User Interface


Closeness of Actions and Objects in GUI Design

Users overlook features if the GUI elements — such as buttons and checkboxes — are too far away from the objects they act on.

Nielsen, Jakob. Alertbox (2010). Articles>Web Design>User Interface>Usability


Co-Design, China, and the Commercialization of the Mobile User Interface

The mobile user interface is becoming a key differentiator for mobile telephony devices and services. The increased focus on usable, emotive, and branded user interfaces is the result of three key drivers.

Williams, David M.L. uiGarden (2006). Articles>User Interface>Ubiquitous Computing>China


Cognitive Dissonance: Why Your User’s Brains Hurt

Sometimes we can’t take away the number of options we’re asking the user to choose from. But we can try and solve for the best possible outcome. By giving the user a means to drill down their choices, or offering up a “Best Value” or “Popular Choice” we help minimize cognitive dissonance thus giving them a richer user experience.

Olson, Jeff. Fuel Your Interface (2010). Articles>User Interface>Usability


Common Automotive Interaction Design Mistakes

People spend a great deal of time driving their cars, so cars should be as easy to use, and as effective as possible. However, most cars are filled with common design mistakes that are annoyances at the least, and often downright dangerous.

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


Common Principles: A Usable Interface Design Primer

When users perform a transaction or action, their cognition is often split between learning and operating the system or user interface (UI). A well-designed UI allows users to focus the majority of their cognitive energy on learning, and offers no operational complications. This most general principle of usability is often called the 'transparent interface.' The transparent interface is commonly defined as one that maximizes user task completion and minimizes interfering factors, such as unnecessary interface complexity or performance.

Oppedisano, Rick. Usability Professionals Association (2002). Design>User Interface>Usability


Comparing Computer Versus Human Data Collection Methods for Public Usability Evaluations of a Tactile-Audio Display   (peer-reviewed)

We present a public usability study that provides preliminary results on the effectiveness of a universally designed system that conveys music and other sounds into tactile sensations. The system was displayed at a public science museum as part of a larger multimedia exhibit aimed at presenting a youths’ perspective on global warming and the environment. We compare two approaches to gathering user feedback about the system in a study that we conducted to assess user responses to the inclusion of a tactile display within the larger audio-visual exhibit; in one version, a human researcher administered the study and in the other version a touch screen computer was used to obtain responses. Both approaches were used to explore the public’s basic understanding of the tactile display within the context of the larger exhibit.

Karam, Maria, Carmen Branje, John-Patrick Udo, Frank Russo and Deborah I. Fels. Journal of Usability Studies (2010). Articles>Usability>User Interface>Audio


Complex Dynamic Lists: Your Order Please

Help your site’s visitors reach their goals quickly with a dynamic menu that takes its cue from the Mac OS X Finder.

Heilmann, Christian. List Apart, A (2005). Design>Web Design>User Interface>DHTML


The Composite Intelligence of Virtual Assistants

Five levels of software intelligence can, in my opinion, make the dream of virtual assistants a reality. Collectively, they make up the concept of composite intelligence, which comprises various software components--each gifted with some moderate degree of intelligence.

Ostinelli, Roberto. UXmatters (2007). Articles>User Interface>User Experience>EPSS


The Confidence Game

How does a user interface designer know that a given design will work? How does anybody develop enough confidence in a design to move it toward the real world? The methods designers use to evaluate user interfaces require training and experience. But the people who need to hire designers are unlikely to have those skills. How do the people who are paying the bills know they are getting good answers?

Krause, Brian R. Boxes and Arrows (2004). Design>User Interface>User Centered Design


The Consistency Conundrum

A common mandate at many software companies is “Make our products consistent!” I’ve heard this clarion call for consistency at every company I’ve worked for that has more than a single product or service. The rationale behind the consistency mandate is that it will reduce design and development costs, improve the overall quality of the software, strengthen the brand (“the products should all look like they come from the same company”), make learning easier for users, and reduce errors when multiple products are used together. These are all great goals, but there is a problem with the consistency mandate – consistency is complex, multi-dimensional, and sometimes at odds with other important goals like usability.

Wilson, Chauncey E. Designing the User Experience at Autodesk (2009). Articles>User Interface>Usability


Console Accessibility

This white paper is intended to show how the console Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) can be used to programmatically access information about the console and applications running under the console in Windows XP.

Microsoft (2001). Articles>User Interface>Accessibility>Microsoft Windows


Context-Sensitive Help: What Programmers and Technical Authors Need to Know

Context-sensitive Help is assistance that is appropriate to where the user is in the software application, and what they are trying to do. Carol Johnston's article describes what programmers and technical authors need to know about Context-sensitive Help.

Johnston, Carol. Cherryleaf (2003). Articles>User Interface>Help>Documentation


Contextual Navigation Aids for Two World Wide Web Systems   (PDF)

In spite of the radical enhancement of Web technologies, many users still continue to experience severe difficulties in navigating Web systems. One way to reduce the navigation difficulties is to provide context information that explains the current situation of Web users. In this study, we empirically examined the effects of 2 types of context information, structural and temporal context. In the experiment, we evaluated the effectiveness of the contextual navigation aids in 2 different types of Web systems, an electronic commerce system that has a well-defined structure and a content dissemination system that has an ill-defined structure. In our experiment, participants answered a set of postquestionnaires after performing several searching and browsing tasks. The results of the experiment reveal that the 2 types of contextual navigation aids significantly improved the performance of the given tasks regardless of different Web systems and different task types. Moreover, context information changed the users’ navigation patterns and increased their subjective convenience of navigation. This study concludes with implications for understanding the users’ searching and browsing patterns and for developing effective navigation systems.

Park, Joonah and Jinwoo Kim. Yonsei University (2000). Design>User Interface>Hypertext


Core Decisions

Many products are doomed to interaction failure before the design has even begun. Learn just how far your responsibilites as a designer extend.

Nielsen Norman Group (2003). Design>User Interface



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