Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bad Interfaces

I have to confess that most of the software I've been involved in developing works brilliantly, but has always looked a bit lousy.

But then I take solace from the fact that companies like Amazon and Google couldn't design a decent user interface despite having all of the money and talent on earth at their behest, and also from the fact that most of the top online applications have pretty lousy and confusing user interfaces (think iTunes or YouTube).

The problem is a basic one. They're trying to do too much. Software is developed by engineers and seeks to offer all the options in the world. It's nothing new. From VHS recorders to your car's on screen controls, they have been rendered nearly useless by a surfeit of functionality.

This has been compounded, as Microsoft has learnt to its cost, by the need to make interfaces work across different devices with different ways of inputting.

Then, in the other corner are the designers and UI and UX experts, who will model and research interfaces to death. If you've every used a bank or telco website you'll see that these guys can get it even more wrong. Orange, for example, has one of the most unusable websites I've ever encountered.

TV Everywhere is just priming to release an adaptive or responsive UI for video projects called video UI, and adaptive is a Big Thing. To those of you unfamiliar it's a HTML5 interface capable of adjusting to the size of screen you're viewing it on.

That's great, but what we actually need is for this to be enhanced by adaptive functionality - the ability for functionality to model itself around users.

The old 20:80 rule applies - you use 20% of a software's functionality every day, and 80% very rarely. So why not prioritise the 20% in the UI ?

Of course, websites and web systems aren't alone in these issues. TV electronic programme guides (EPGs) are equally as flummoxing and even worse if my Tivo UI is anything to go by.

Ironically, mobile interfaces are a lot better. The need to create intelligible UIs and to create clear, thumb-clickable navigation means that they offer the most satisfying user experience.