Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Developing User Interfaces

My buddy Craig put a note up on his blog with two links talking about the same issue. One was a developer griping about how he couldn't make any progress at the big company he was working for. The other talked about how the resulting user interface was too complicated. Both are good reads.

I agree with the developer. No matter how important you might think the design is, this is no way to run a business. Eight people worked for over a year to produce a simple menu. Developers actually want to get things done. Managers don't seem to understand this. A good manager gets a good developer to achieve good performance by getting out of their way. Most managers seem to think that they have to coax, cajole, or even threaten their staff. Very strange. My own performance has now varied by a factor of about thirty, by any measure. It hasn't been a matter of motivation, or being a team player or the tools provided, or even clarity of purpose. It has been entirely how much red tape is required. The less the better. Managers seem to think of their job as important. But their job is overhead, which should be minimized.

I mostly agree with Joel on this one. For an end user application, simplicity is king. My own Ipod Shuffle has a power switch. It's a three position switch. The three positions are off, sequential, and shuffle. The off position should have been eliminated. For one thing, it's unreliable. If i pause the device, it will eventually turn itself off. When i turn it back on with the play button, it picks up where it left off. But, if i turn it off with the switch, every now and then, when i turn it back on, it starts at the beginning of the first track, or worse, it starts at the beginning of a random track (because it's pretty easy to switch it to shuffle mode). Since there's no display on the Shuffle, and since i may have 50 tracks on it, and since the fast forward isn't all that fast, it can take twenty minutes to get back to where i was. So, i don't use off anymore. The other things that should have been fixed are the fast forward and rewind features. Rewind should be able to dig into the end of the previous track. For some of the two hour podcasts i listen to, failure to start where i left off after about, oh, an hour and 50 minutes, is frustratingly painful. In fact, faced with this, i mostly either skip the rest of the program or use a real computer for the last bit. Both reverse and fast forward need to be able to speed up (by skipping more content) in some reasonable way. What did Apple do instead with the new Shuffle? They removed the built-in USB connection. Now you need an extra dohickey to put more stuff on it. Apple also seems to want to add even more DRM to their stuff. I don't use DRM content. I won't be upgrading.


Anonymous said...

What was even more interesting to me was the discussion we had about your other MP3 player. It's got twice the memory, and uses a AA battery, yet you still use the shuffle because the user interface was poorly designed compared with the shuffle. I think that speaks volumes about the need for simple and intuitive interfaces for items (and well debugged interfaces at that).

And yes, I think the new shuffle isn't as good as the original. It seems Apple is going after the "smaller is better" segment. The loss of the on-board USB port is a dealbreaker for me. I don't need another damn cable, thank you. I saw a kid over at Meijer returning a newer shuffle because it wouldn't sync anymore. Somehow the cable didn't work. I don't need that aggravation, thank you.

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