Sunday, February 12, 2006

Another usability rant...

It continues to amaze me that there are a large number of developers, developing Microsoft Windows user interfaces, who haven't heard of the Offical User Interface Guidelines. That's right, Microsoft supply freely accessible information on how user interfaces should look and behave when they are running under Microsoft Windows. And most of this is basic stuff. Consider these points from the User-Centered Design Principles:

- The operational assumption is that the user (not the computer or software) initiates actions. The user plays an active rather than reactive role. You can automate tasks, but implement the automation in a way that allows the user to choose or control it.

- Because of their widely varying skills and preferences, users must be able to personalize aspects of the interface. The system software provides user access to many of these aspects. Your software should reflect user settings for different system properties, such as colors, fonts, or other options.

- Your software should be as interactive and responsive as possible. Avoid modes whenever possible. A mode is a state that excludes general interaction or otherwise limits the user to specific interactions. When a mode is the best or only design alternative (for example, for selecting a particular tool in a drawing program) make sure the mode is obvious, visible, the result of an explicit user choice, and easy to cancel.


And there's other basic stuff in there too, like:

- ensuring your application supports the tab key to move between text boxes (yes, Relic Entertainment this applies to you!),

- making menus and buttons are accessible using keyboard shortcuts (Alt-x, etc),

- ensuring you can cancel a process after it has started,

- when menus are used, make sure the File menu handles file operations, the Edit menu handles editing operations, and the Help menu provides access to help documentation.

And ANY user interface developer should make sure that they are familiar with Jakob Nielsen's ten usability heuristics.

It's all basic stuff!

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