User interface is king

24 April 2008

This morning, it was 68 degrees before 8 a.m. My son dressed in shorts for the first time this year. And he knew it was going to be the best recess of the season so far. But he had a paper for school (fifth grade) that he had hand-written, and needed to type up before handing it in this afternoon. He’d forgotten to do it last night, and if he didn’t have it done this morning, he was going to have to stay in at recess and type it up then.

So he scrambled to type it up this morning before we left the house. He didn’t finish. He was heading to Mimi’s house for breakfast, though, and might have some time there, so I suggested he email it to himself, then check his email at Mimi’s, and finish typing it there. Then he could email the final copy to himself (to pick up at school), and I told him to send it to me, too, just in case.

I dropped him off at Mimi’s, and  headed up to work. When I sat down at my desk, there was email from the little guy — with an attachment (in .rtf) of his paper. Some of the people I work with can’t even attach a document to an email, but he pulled it off. (And he did it all by himself, without help.)

Now, of course, part of the reason is that he’s a super genius. 🙂 But the other part is that some folks have really figured out conceptual UI design. My little guy uses GMail, and GMail really makes it hard to go wrong. It’s got a top-down format, which makes you go step by step. No horizontal toolbars, no bevy of options, just a straightforward process, so easy, a ten-year-old can grok it. Only eight things to think about. To, CC, BCC, subject, formatting, spelling, attach a file, event invitation, and then you’re off. (OK, event invitation? Meh.)

Compare that to about a dozen or so (depending on your preferences) in Mail.app (chat? If I want to chat with someone, I’ll go to iChat, thanks) and OWA (Outlook Web Access) — and do note that several of the OWA options are icons, so you have no idea what they mean…

I have a phone on my desk. It has 38 buttons on it. I have only ever used 12 of them. I suppose if I were some fancy phone-nerd, I’d use the 38 buttons, but someone like me doesn’t need 38 buttons. I need 12. I also need a smaller phone. 🙂



  1. He dah man! The problem with the tools we use and need today is they were designed by engineers with an engineering mindset. They rarely consider (as writers must — write for the dairy man in denver) that mom is going to use the damn thing.
    Apple figured it out, and their pompousness continues unabated to this day, but perhaps rightly so.
    The electronics underlying their product is commodity and they’re getting huge laptop premiums for simple UI. Whuda thunk it?
    Google’s got game in this respect as well. i use their analytics tool and i appreciate when people have thought about what i want before i did.

  2. That, and of course, more is always better, right?

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