Interface Design

Say all the evil things you like about Microsoft, but Windows does have at least ONE thing going for it.

Consistent interface design. Meaning, all windows look similar, the close, minimize and maximize/restore buttons all look the same, the title bar looks the same, controls [buttons, dropdowns etc.] look the same.

Until certain companies get a hold of the program. Then all hell breaks loose.

"BUT!", you might be saying,"that makes windows dull, boring, and so on".

Well, yes and no, it does get repetitive, but for usability, you can't beat it. The design is totally consistent, controls that are 'greyed out', or more accurately "disabled" [it's only a default that they're grey, you can change that], are inaccessible, buttons are all roughly the same design, and can be clicked on. Buttons in the title bar with a '?' in them can be clicked to give you a cursor with a ? in it, which will then proceed to tell you context sensitive help, and so on and so on.

Examples:

All of the above items have some things in common:

This was one of Microsoft's better ideas. From a moderately technical point of view, these things are called "Windows Common Controls" and as mentioned above, they add usability to the system.

Now, however, there seem to be fewer and fewer cases where they get used. Apple's "QuickTime" application is a good example. Functionally, it's a great product, it's free, only nags you to pay for the full version occasionally, and has excellent sound and video quality. However, it's stainless steel or brushed aluminum looking, rather than having a proper window. And the close 'thing' [you can't really call it a button] is greyed out. It works, but it's grey. Umm, guys, there are things Windows users tend to expect. One of them is that applications open in a "window". The operating system is NAMED after them.

There is also a trend to make things look "XP ish", giving them red rounded cornered close buttons for example, and making all the buttons curvy, and shaded; again, umm, guys, there's a method of doing that. Use the common controls. MSDN has guides on how to enable the funkalicious stuff for XP, hard coding it into the program ain't it. It looks frankly stupid on Windows 2000, which a lot of people still prefer because it doesn't have the funkiness that they haven't quite ironed out of XP yet, indeed, they probably never will on the grounds they're now trying to get Longhorn out somewhere before the year 2155.

Frankly, [and I am very opinionated so I may not be representative here], if a program looks totally unlike what a program is supposed to look like, I am most likely to uninstall it. Maybe you want "skinnable". Skinnable apps are a nice idea, I like it. But. how difficult would it be to include skins for Win9x, Win Me, Win2000 and XP, along with your funky "what the hell is that?" skin that you want to make the default?. Microsoft themselves are not averse to breaking their own established interface standards however, as MSN Messenger bears witness to.

Msn messenger shows a disregard for the usual user interface standards of previous versions of Windows by assuming its own 'skin' with customized controls and backgrounds

Yahoo! Messenger does the same thing, their program looks like Windows XP, default theme. [namely, UGLY] in version 6.0, sadly. [I am now stuck with 5.6 as a direct result].

Fact of the matter is, I respect programmers immensely, but they sometimes appear to lose sight of one important fact. If the first appearance of your program makes the user go "EWWW" or "eh?" or "WTF???", they're probably going to uninstall it, and not pay you. Which is a shame, many of the programs I have uninstalled were otherwise very functional, but they just didn't look right.

There used to be a very good site about interface design at iarchitect.com, but now it's the home of one of those damned domain squatters, so no clicky linky.


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