Super Humanes, Mini minimals and idiot users.

I agree with Linus: KDE is more usable

If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will use it. I don't use Gnome, because in striving to be simple, it has long since reached the point where it simply doesn't do what I need it to do.
Linus Torvalds, at the gnome usability mailing list

And, sorry by that, I partially agree with Linus. Gnome is either too simple (mini minimal) or too complex (super humane). It's not a reasonable user interface. I've been using KDE for several years (with Mandrake and with Kubuntu) and I have to admit that every new release is just an improvement in user experience. I fully recommend KDE too. (And there's no intention to begin a Gnome vs. KDE war. If you like Gnome then go ahead and have fun, but please respect my opinion and let me express it. Otherwise, if you're a Gnome developer, you may find good hints to improve your GUIs here).

The fact is that Linus' comment may as well be applied to the distinction between Minimal and Humane interfaces that caused all these comments in the web lately. As well as Minimal interfaces and Humane interfaces I would include two more extreme variations of API design: The "Mini Minimal" approach and the "Super Humane" one.

Mini Minimal Interfaces, by example

Let's try to see an example of "Mini Minimal" interface design. "Mini Minimal" interfaces are an extreme of "Minimal Interfaces" and their defect is being so simple that they become useless. To see a real-life example of "Mini Minimal" interface design we will need "The Gimp v 2.2". (Beware that you'll have to install tons of weird libraries. In my Ubuntu 5.04 box this software requires linux-sound-base !??).

Once you get to get "The Gimp" v 2.2 then create a new image and try to save it as a PNG image. This is the "Save" dialog I'm getting:

Save dialog, simple

This is an example of dialogphilia, a disease that makes you re-create, re-design new file dialogs on every single release of your product. The fact is that the dialog is just too simple for me to use because it doesn't allow me to properly select a folder to save the image into. So, to select a folder on where to save the image, I am forced to click on that little, tiny small white arrow at the left of "Buscar otras carpetas" (search another folder).

From my point of view this is a nice example of "Mini Minimal" interfaces. Interfaces that trying to be simple become simpler, and fail to meet user expectations and, as a consequence, lack functionality and are just not usable.

The fact is that the dialog violates two usability laws: don't hide/show things to the user and don't create new weird widgets (such as that little tiny arrow there). But, wait, there's even more. Let's keep on clicking and investigating. Once you click on that weird tiny white arrow here's what you get:

Save dialog, simple

And this is just another example of dialogphilia. It's the most weird dialog I've ever seen to select a folder. I understand that it's a good idea to innovate new ways to do things. Gnome may be a good place for somebody to experiment innovative dialogs. I appreciate this. I probably like it from a technical point of view. But the fact is that I just want to save a PNG image. I'm not a guinea pig to experiment dialogphilia with. I'm a frustrated user. That's all.

So I manage to select the folder. Wow. That was hard. Let's click on the "Save" button. Wait. There's even more!!! We're reaching the...

... Super Humane Interface

Once you manage to click that "Save" button you get this last example of dialogphilia:

Save dialog, simple

Well, the fact is that the dialog is too wide to fit the screen (!!??) so here's the part of it that's falling through the right part of my monitor (note that the "OK" button is not visible without scrolling the dialog !?):

Save dialog, simple

And this is the perfect example of a Super Humane Interface. An interface with too many buttons, too many controls, too many widgets that are just... useless!! Trying to be too much humane makes the interface just plain useless.

The fact is that this "Save as PNG" option dialog is just out of place. (By the way, the whole process has to be repeated, including the painful folder selection, for every single PNG image you want to save). I'd prefer a little tiny tiny small "yellow" arrow in the previous dialog to be presented with the options for the PNG format. Or even move all the PNG stuff into a "Preferences Dialog" (Gnome developers tend to love preferences, see this message at the Gnome usability mailing list for screenshot examples). But I don't want to set them now! I don't mind if I want to save the PNG file with an "Entrelazado (Adam 7)" format or not. I don't even know what that means. This dialog is getting in my way.

So providing too much methods, buttons, dialogs and options trying to make things simpler makes things just more complex.

As I said in my previous entry, desigining user interfaces is a hard task. Humane and Minimal interfaces may be the way to go but both have their extremes. Keeping things under control, using our common sense to avoid extremes such as Super Human or Mini Minimal is probably the way to go.

After all, it's not about Humane Interfaces or Minimal Interfaces. As Aristotle said, "Virtue lies in the middle".

Happy API designing,
Antonio

Comentarios:

"Beware that you'll have to install tons of weird libraries. In my Ubuntu 5.04 box this software requires linux-sound-base !??). " -- Antonio, we all know to be a good application now days you have to "be able to write & check emails and to have full multimedia abilities! :P

Gimp 2.2 Save Dialog - I ran into that this weekend actually, I was needing to convert and modify a set of about 15 images from one image type & size(1280x1024,t\*something\*) to another(800x600, png) and I thought it was appauling that for each file I had to go through and click the little arrow and then scroll through the little window of types. It seems to me that a minimalistic way of doing so might be, don't faint on me, how MS Paint has its dialog for type selection followed by the screen to set the specifics of it. But thats just a rough quick 15 second thought on it. :) After reading down more I saw you had the comment on the extensions, but I didn't get that really long dialog, mine was small and to the point. Weird?

Now one thing I have to agree to disagree on is your last thing about the extra settings on a file type. I noticed this weekened when I set those, they stayed from my previous setting which allowed me to set once, then on each image just select the image type and then just click on through. But, I think its also important to argue one point of the average user isn't going to want something as complex as Gimp, they want something super simple easy and dumb to use. Gimp is something for more power users who need moer then an MS Paint style program and want to beable to set the compression ratio, interlaced, and ADAM-7 (WTF is that anyways?) while at the same time doing crazy weird stuff to images. I think it all goes back to the old line of thinking use only what you need and not beyond. I think Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro do something similar as well, but I can't try to find examples while I'm here at work.

Now heres a question for you, do you find OSX interface design thought pattern to be to simplistic? I find it is sort of like GNOME, but I enjoy using OSX far more then I do GNOME. Yet, I prefer GNOME over KDE, but to be fair, I haven't given KDE a good usage test in about 3'ish years. And yet, I think I like the usage of GNOME and XP about the same, if that says something. :o/
-Jeff

Side thought, I find it amusing that this interface stuff comes up lately, I've been fighting a war at work over UI design as well as API design. Its sad how most engineers/developers feel about such things. :(

Enviado por Jeffrey Olson en diciembre 13, 2005 a las 02:01 PM CET #

Hi Jeffrey,

Yes, I agree Gimp is not for normal users like me. On my new box I haven't installed Gimp (the screenshots are taken from my previous one). I'm quite happy with KDE's KPaint (that has improved a lot).

Anyway saving 15 png files with The Gimp is a pain in the neck for me. Having to fight that file dialog 15 times is terrifying. I won't be able to select the same folder 15 times in a row. Just too boring ;-).

Regarding MacOSX I think it's indeed simple. I haven't experienced it too much but I like it. Great visual effects. I don't think Gnome compares to MacOSX, though. Apple people are light years ahead from everybody doing GUI. And, well, to be honest, last time I used Windows was at a customer's in 2000-2001. I've been lucky since then and I haven't had to fight any virus/spyware since then.

Anyway I think everybody has its preferences. Mine are programs that don't make me to select the same folder 15 times. Nowadays computers can be programmed in much smarter ways.

Happy Christmas!

Antonio

Enviado por Antonio en diciembre 15, 2005 a las 01:23 PM CET #

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